An interview with Abshir H Abshir is Executive Director, Centre for the Rule of Law and Development. Based in Garowe, the capital of Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region, Abshir is also a former ambassador to Burundi and a former member of the country’s national parliament. He recently attended a ten-week online Environmental Security and Sustaining Peace course organized by UN Environment, the Environmental Law Institute, the University of California—Irvine, Duke University and Columbia University. We spoke with Abshir to find out why the course is relevant to Puntland.
What are some of Somalia’s most pressing environmental challenges?
For the last several years there have been increasingly drier and hotter than normal weather patterns in the country leading to more intense droughts. In Somaliland and Puntland, some of the worst affected areas are experiencing prolonged dryness, leading to severe water shortages and earlier-than-normal water trucking at hiked prices. The environment is everything and very crucial for the African continent. The more the planet heats up, the higher the likelihoods of tensions over access to resources such as water and pasture.
A poor rainy season can lead to clashes between clans or sub-clans over access and distribution of water resources.
How many people have been displaced by the drought?
According to a recent report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), drought conditions in the 2018/19 Deyr rainy season have led to an increase in the number of people designated as “food insecure” in Somalia since October of last year.
The severe drought conditions are leading to further internal displacement with nearly 44,000 people estimated to have moved from rural areas into urban centres this year. Around 2.6 million people are internally displaced across the country.
The worst affected areas include the northern and central Somalia regions of Somaliland, Puntland, Mudug, Hiraan, Galgaduud and Bay.
What was your main takeaway from the online course?
The course demonstrates the significant linkages between peace and conflict over access to and sharing of natural resources.
It offered me a unique opportunity to engage with a global cohort of experts and practitioners in the fields of natural resource management, peacebuilding, and conflict resolution.
I would advise policymakers and other government officials to take the course as it demonstrates, through case studies, how people can use natural resources to foster peace through cooperation, rather than being a platform for fighting.
What are you and your organization doing to address the situation?
Governance is key in preventing or reversing environmental degradation. Through our organization we are working to promote communal participation in the management of natural resources.
We also intend to convene elders from various clans to manage fisheries, water and pasture. They are key in promoting cooperation over shared resources as they possess historical information about droughts and traditional means of resilience.
We intend to collaborate with them to use their influence in ensuring communities can sustainably share water wells and forests. In Puntland, each community has its own wells but during drought, depending on the water table, some wells dry up thus compelling some communities to encroach on other wells.
How else do you intend to reverse or minimize the environmental degradation?
Our vision is to plant one million trees in Puntland and hopefully people in other parts of the country can emulate us. We must start somewhere. I look forward to working with grassroots communities, the government, and international partners such as the United Nations to attain this goal.
We also intend to work with local journalists to educate the public on issues of environmental governance. Journalists, especially those who work for radios, are critical allies as they are able to reach nomadic populations in remote areas.
UN Environment established its Environmental Cooperation for Peacebuilding programme in 2008. The initiative seeks to address critical knowledge gaps on the role of natural resources in identifying conflict risks and peacebuilding opportunities.
The course is offered through the SDG Academy, the online education platform of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), a global initiative for the United Nations. More details are available here.
Between 2009 and 2015, the programme co-generated 150 original peer-reviewed case studies by 225 experts and practitioners, covering 12 natural resource sectors across 60 conflict affected countries. It also provided technical analysis and environmental diplomacy support to Western Sahara, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Papua New Guinea, the Sahel region, Sudan and Nigeria to address ongoing or potential resource disputes.
Learn more about UN Environment's work on disasters and conflicts.