Responding to devastating drought in Somalia

UNICEF is working with partners to support families displaced by drought and conflict.

Somalia. A boy holds an empty glass toward the camera.
11 March 2022

Three consecutive seasons of failed rains, combined with ongoing conflict in many parts of the country, have taken a heavy toll on families in Somalia. By early 2022, most regions were experiencing severe drought conditions, with water shortages and loss of livestock displacing hundreds of thousands of people in search of food and safe water. 

The ongoing emergency in Somalia and other Horn of Africa nations is depriving children and their families of a home, a meal, a classroom and access to life-saving health services. UNICEF is on the ground providing life-saving emergency support for children and their families, as well as helping communities prepare to handle the increasing number of hardships inflicted by climate change. 

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Somalia. Children play outside at their home at a site for internally displaced persons.
Children play outside at their home at a site for internally displaced persons in Dolow, Somalia.

Families in Somalia are taking extreme measures to survive, and in many cases they are leaving their homes, which puts children on the move particularly at risk. By 9 March 2022, around 670,000 people had been displaced in search of food, water and land for grazing livestock. 

Somalia. People collect water from a camp for internally displaced persons.
People collect water from a camp for internally displaced persons.

Severe water shortages and inadequate access to sanitation and hygiene facilities heighten the risk of outbreaks of preventable diseases such as acute watery diarrhoea, cholera and respiratory infections. UNICEF is working with partners to provide water trucking to displaced populations to ensure sustained access to safe water and to help prevent the spread of diseases. 

Somalia. A nurse checks a child for malnutrition in Somalia.
A nurse measures the upper arm circumference of a child as part of the screening for malnutrition.

Hundreds of thousands of children in Somalia are at risk of developing severe wasting – the most immediate, visible and life-threatening form of malnutrition. An assessment released in February showed that more than 1.4 million children are likely to suffer from acute malnutrition due to the ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa, more than a quarter of whom are expected to experience severe malnutrition. 

Somalia. A child eats a nutritional supplement.
A child being held by his mother eats a nutritional supplement.

To mitigate and manage nutrition related challenges, UNICEF is working with the government and partners to provide vital interventions as part of its response to the drought, including providing therapeutic foods to treat acute malnutrition and micronutrients to tackle deficiencies, as well as counselling to encourage families to adopt practical nutrition and health practices at home. 

Somalia. A doctor holds up some medicines.
A doctor holds up a bottle of antibiotics.

Displaced families are living across 2,400 often overcrowded, hard-to-reach temporary sites. UNICEF and partners have been scaling up the provision of essential lifesaving health services, including supporting routine vaccination services and the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. UNICEF is also supporting work around enhancing capacities for local authorities to provide health and nutrition services.  

Somalia. A nurse examines a small child at a health centre in Dolow.
A nurse examines a small child at a health centre in Dolow.

Too often, simple cost-effective interventions are out of reach for the mothers and babies who need them most, particularly among displaced populations. Access to clean water and disinfectants, handwashing, breastfeeding within the first hour, proper cord care and good nutrition are proven solutions. UNICEF is working with partners to ensure that mothers and their children can get access to these vital services. 

Somalia. A child writes on a chalkboard at a school in Dolow.

The large number of people on the move as they search for food and safe water has led to an increase in the number of children who aren’t in school. Many children who drop out of school, especially adolescent girls, never return to classes once they leave, and many schools close. Children out of school and on the move are at greater risk of exploitation and abuse. 

Somalia. Children play a boardgame.
Children play at a child friendly space that provides recreational activities and numeracy and literacy classes in Dolow.

Spikes in commodity prices cut into household resources leaving children at greater risk of exploitation. For example, desperate families trying to alleviate the growing strain on household resources have turned to negative coping strategies such as child marriage. UNICEF is supporting community-based protection efforts, including mental health and psychosocial support services, to help prevent the exploitation of vulnerable children. 


Providing emergency assistance is imperative to save lives, but recurring climate events are also exacerbating the longer-term challenges faced by vulnerable families. UNICEF supports initiatives to make schools, health centres, water and sanitation facilities – and other services critical to children’s well-being – resistant to climate and environmental shocks. Read more about UNICEF’s work in Somalia here.