Stuart Polak says Somaliland’s stability is helping the UK

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Lord Stuart Polak made the case for Somaliland today during a debate on the impact of the Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports on food insecurity in developing countries, and its contribution to the danger of famine in the Horn of Africa.

MP Polak, a member of the British Senate, spoke widely about the effects of the food shortage caused by the war with Russia in the Somaliland community, as President HE. Muse clarified his drought appeal to the world.

Food Insecurity in Developing Countries due to Blockade of Ukrainian Ports discussion of the Senate session held on Thursday, MP Polak started;

Last Monday, the Telegraph online published an article describing the first-hand experience of cattle herder Dahir, whose family had lived a pastoral life in Somaliland for generations. The article illustrated the brutal and devastating circumstances that have transpired as people try to navigate surviving the worst drought to hit the Horn of Africa for 40 years. The article, headed “First I lost my livestock. Then I lost my children”, depicts the harrowing story of how two of Dahir’s children, Amina and Muhammed, aged four and six, died from dysentery after being faced with no other option than to drink murky water. Dahir had already lost his income and the ability to support his family, as his goat herd had diminished to 10% of its original size in just 18 months. A lack of funds meant that Dahir was unable to afford transport for his children to receive treatment and, as a result, tragically, they died.

This year, at least 805,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in Somaliland and Somalia in search of food and water. That number is rising as we speak, with thousands suffering from the long-term impacts of four failed rainy seasons. The story I just told describes one person’s experience and one family’s tragedy but this is happening across the entire Horn of Africa. According to the International Rescue Committee, over 18.4 million people in the region, half of them children, are on the verge of starvation.

Although the devastating drought is a significant reason for the current emergency, it is only one factor. On 11 July, the President of Somaliland, Muse Bihi Abdi, published a letter requesting drought assistance. He began the letter by stating:

“In a country that is still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19, the accumulation of multiple factors—the cyclic droughts, measles outbreak, and war in Ukraine has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in Somaliland.”

President Abdi’s letter outlines how a conflict almost 5,000 miles away has managed to have an outsized impact on the region.

As has been stated, the Ukrainian Government banned the export of wheat, oats, millet, buckwheat and some other food products to forestall a food crisis and stabilise the market. The partial ban on wheat and grains by Russia between 15 March and 30 June has further squeezed global supplies. Wheat and wheat products account for 25% of the average total cereal consumption in east Africa, with the highest consumption per capita in Djibouti, Eritrea and Sudan. Somalia and Somaliland import about half of their national food supply, including 92% of their grain supplies, from Ukraine or Russia; that same grain currently lies blocked off in Odessa. Up to 84% of the wheat demand in the entire region is met by imports, and reliance on direct imports from Russia and Ukraine has led to the rise in global prices.

As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned, two further major exports of Ukraine and Russia are fertiliser and sunflower oil. As well as pastoral farming, most countries in the Horn of Africa rely heavily on crop farming as a large contributor to the economy, as well as a protection to ensure food security. Fertiliser is key to revitalising the soil and creating an environment where crops such as teff, a staple grain for Djiboutian cuisine, can be grown. For countries such as Djibouti, the conflict in Ukraine is a double-edged sword. Not only can they not import grain to feed their population; they cannot import fertiliser to grow their own crops. This will do little to aid the cause of food security in such nations.

The Russian invasion has caused major disruption to global supply chains. We have felt the impact of those disruptions here in the UK; for example, with longer waiting times, back-ordering, and a lack of sunflower oil on supermarket shelves. But we need to consider the detrimental impact that these disruptions have had on countries such as Somaliland, Djibouti and Sudan.

As a result of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, it has become increasingly difficult to source even the most fundamental medicines needed for the oral rehydration of severely malnourished children living in the Horn of Africa. As acute malnutrition rises across Somaliland and Somalia, with nutrition clinics reporting a 265% increase in the number of severely malnourished children under five needing treatment, the IRC has found that aid delivery has been severely impacted by the 200% jump in malnutrition treatment costs due to disruptions in the global supply chain.

One country that sits at the heart of this crisis and which I continue to mention—it is a country close to my heart and one that I recently visited—is Somaliland. Somaliland is an internationally unrecognised former British protectorate. It is a stable, peaceful and functioning pro-western democracy in a region ravaged by conflict, Islamist extremism and Chinese appropriation.

This perfect storm of humanitarian crises, made worse by the Ukraine conflict, could not have come at a more dangerous time for Somaliland. Like many other developing countries, Somaliland had just begun to emerge from the pandemic with a growing economy, boosted by UK assistance and investment in the DP World port facility of Berbera, as well as a major trade corridor that links Somaliland with its landlocked neighbour, Ethiopia, and its population of over 100 million.

I have previously mentioned in this Chamber the devastating fire that ravished Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa. This fire engulfed and destroyed the central market of the capital city, destroying the livelihoods of thousands of mostly female market traders and the families they supported. This only contributed to Somaliland’s already dire economic, food and health crises.

While unrecognised, Somaliland has failed to receive even 20% of the aid it needs to survive the impending famine. But if Somaliland was recognised as an independent democracy, it would better protect its citizens and ensure that aid funding and relief is delivered directly to people such as Dahir and his children. Furthermore, recognition would unshackle Somaliland’s incredibly entrepreneurial and free-market economy to make sure aid was no longer the sole driver of development. Somaliland’s small businesses and leading companies would contribute to development by lifting millions out of poverty.

I pay tribute to the impressive and diligent Foreign Minister Dr Essa Kayd and of course, to the indefatigable spokeswoman for Somaliland, former Foreign Minister Edna Adan Ismail. But Somaliland’s lack of recognition means it is currently completely cut off from the international financial system, from development funds in the World Bank, the African Development Bank, or international commercial banks. In fact, non-recognition means that Somaliland, a genuine democracy, is effectively under more financial restrictions than Russia.

Helping Somaliland is not just about a moral responsibility to an ally of the UK; it matters to us here too. Somaliland has been free of the almost daily terrorist violence inflicted by the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab in the rest of the Somali region. That is because Somaliland spends 30% of its annual budget on security. We in the UK recognise the critical role Somaliland is playing in the security of its 850 kilometres of Red Sea coast shoreline by being a leading supporter of its security forces. Ensuring Somaliland’s continued stability is helping us, here in the UK, keep safe.

I appeal once again to the Minister, who I know understands this issue well, to go back to the FCDO and ensure that we fulfil our obligations to the people of Somaliland. They need our help, they need our assistance and they need our recognition.

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