Background of the Forgotten Humanitarian Crisis in Somalia

In 1960, the previously British protectorate Somaliland and the Italian colony of Somalia became independent. In a democratic vote, a government was elected that soon became characterized by corruption and nepotism. Shortly after, under General Siad Barre, the military overthrew the government in a putsch, yet only received popular support for a few years. Barre’s term of governing was marked with violent confrontations that were also influenced by the Cold War between the two superpowers USA and USSR. In 1991, rebels toppled Siad Barre. Many different political and ethnic groups attempted to fill the vacant space and gain control over all of Somalia. In the same year, the north of the country declared its independence as the Republic of Somaliland.

While the north might not be internationally recognized, it is fairly stable politically, and the rest of the country is only slowly beginning to settle. Even the new government under President Hassan Sheikh Mahamoud has not yet been able to achieve more stability and political progress. Somalia still suffers from weak state institutions and is reliant on international aid. Violent, corruption and poverty are still predominant. Even though a certain amount of stability has arisen, people’s daily lives are still marked by violent conflict and bitter poverty.

In Somalia, most people live from raising livestock or agriculture. After little or no rainfall, and with low river levels, the food situation for many Somalis is grave. The harvest was extremely poor and there are no opportunities for employment. Land, grazing meadows and water are scarce, and animals are dying. In addition, prices for basic food are rising quickly while livestock is losing value, causing many families to no longer be able to sustain themselves. Out of a population of 12.3 million, 3 million are suffering from hunger and another 3.3 million are threatened by hunger if not assisted immediately.

Millions of people are on the run. Many of them take on the dangerous route to reach Europe. Somalia is one of the poorest countries in the world.

  • The average life expectancy is 55 years
  • 91 of 1,000 babies die at birth
  • 85 percent of all Somalis live in poverty
  • 30 percent of all children in Somalia are malnourished
  • 37 of all Somalis can neither read nor write

Women and children are the ones who suffer the most. The birth rate is very high. In average, a Somali woman bears about 6 or 7 children in the course of her lifetime. Medical care for the women is poor. Only nearly a quarter of all Somali women have access to prenatal and medical care. Genital mutilation is still regularly observed and can lead to life-threatening complications during birth. About one of 18 women dies giving birth.


Just as their mothers, babies and toddlers are also at risk. The death rate for girls and boys under five years of age is high; about every tenth baby dies in Somalia before reaching its first birthday.

Due to the decade-long civil wars, not only the healthcare but also the educational system is failing. Only 37 percent of all Somalis can read and write. Especially youth have no opportunities, which is why they have come to be referred to as a “lost generation”. This state of hopelessness has made them particularly susceptible to joining militant groups.