Food Security and Resilience in Somalia

Project Team

A major famine struck Somalia in 2010-2011, and killed over a quarter of a million people. The center was called upon to provide technical backstopping to UNICEF during the famine itself, and later Feinstein staff participated in evaluations of the response.  This led to a major three year retrospective study of the famine, which considered:

  • The reasons for the delayed international response
  • The engagement of non-western humanitarian actors
  • The agency and actions of affected communities and groups in protecting their own livelihoods and lives, in the face of one of the most devastating combinations of shocks to simultaneously hit the Horn of Africa in several decades

The research resulted in the publication of a book in 2016: Famine in Somalia: Competing Imperatives, Collective Failures, 2011-2012 (New York: Oxford University Press).

Follow on work has focused on interventions aimed at building resilience in the famine-affected areas, as an alternative to recurrent humanitarian aid. This includes defining and measuring resilience, and developing the means for real time shock monitoring.

Cover of Report: Another Crisis in Somalia 2022

This report rings the alarm about likely famine in Somalia in 2022 by comparing the situation today with the situation before and during the famine in 2011.

Nisar Majid, Mohamed Jelle, Guhad Adan, Aydrus Daar, Khalif Abdirahman, Peter Hailey, Nancy Balfour, Andrew Seal, Daniel Maxwell

• June 2022

The Somalia famine of 2011 was to date the worst famine of the 21st Century. In retrospect the disaster should never have reached the severity that it did, but the famine developed...

Daniel Maxwell, Jeeyon Janet Kim, Nisar Majid

• August 2015
Somalian famine

This paper is important reading for anyone working in or on Somalia because it presents the Somalian famine of 2011 from the perspective of those who lived through it in...

Nisar Majid, Guhad Adan, Khalif Abdirahman, Jeeyon Janet Kim, Daniel Maxwell

• February 2016
Somali response

In 2011–12, Somalia experienced the worst famine of the twenty-first century. Since then, research on the famine has focused almost exclusively on the external response, the reasons for the delay...

Daniel Maxwell, Nisar Majid, Jeeyon Janet Kim, Guhad Adan, Khalif Abdirahman

• October 2015

After two reasonably good years of recovery, 2014 appears to be shaping up as a difficult year for Somalia. Donors and agencies are ringing alarm bells about deteriorating conditions. There...

Daniel Maxwell, Nisar Majid

• August 2014
Somalia crisis

On July 20, 2011, the UN declared a famine in South Central Somalia, which killed some 260,000 people (Checchi and Robinson 2013). Though Somalia was the worst affected country, the...

Daniel Maxwell, Nisar Majid, Heather Stobaugh, Jeeyon Janet Kim, Jacqueline Lauer, Eliza Paul

• July 2014

Famine, conflict and political indifference

This editorial looks at the famines and food crises in South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, and Yemen in 2016 and 2017. It describes the role of conflict and political settlements in these crises.

It was authored by Andrew Seal, senior lecturer in international nutrition at Institute for Global Health, University College London, UK; Peter Hailey, director at Centre for Humanitarian Change, Nairobi, Rob Bailey, research director, energy, environment and resources at Chatham House, London, UK; Daniel Maxwell, Henry J Leir professor in food security and Nisar Majid, visiting fellow at Feinstein International Center, Tufts University.

It was published in BMJ on May 10, 2017.

Facing famine: Somali experiences in the famine of 2011

This paper considers the internal, Somali response to the famine of 2011, asking: how did Somali communities and households cope in the absence of any state-led response—and with a significant delay in a major international response? The authors focus on the factors that seemed to determine whether and how well people survived the famine: social connectedness, the extent of the social networks of affected populations, and the ability of these networks to mobilize resources.

This paper offers lessons learned on how to improve our understanding of famine, and of mitigation, response, and building resilience to future crises. Published in Food Policy in December 2016.

From Face-to-Face to Face-to-Screen: Implications of Remote Management for the Effectiveness and Accountability of Humanitarian Action in Insecure Environments

This article provides a first attempt at analyzing the complex set of issues around remote management practices in insecure environments and their increased use. It looks at definitions and reviews existing published and grey literature on remote management and related practices. It tries to situate remote management in the evolving context of post-Cold War strategies of dealing with conflict and crisis.

Additionally, the article provides an assessment of current remote management practices, with a particular focus on Afghanistan and Somalia, and their implications for the future of humanitarian action. Published in a special edition of International Review of the Red Cross in June 2013.

Articles from Global Food Security “Special Issue on the Somalia Famine of 2011-2012”

The articles linked below were published in a special issue of Global Food Security. This special issue brings together various perspectives on the 2011-2012 Somalia famine, its causes, and the humanitarian response. In addition, it draws out the lessons to increase understanding not only of what happened, but also of what improvements are needed to reduce the risk of famine in the future.

The second article below lays out the main causes of the famine, focusing on the drought, the conflict, and the rapid rise in the price of food in late 2010 to early 2011. It also explains some of the complicating factors of the famine—including the severely constrained state of humanitarian access, the absence of WFP, and the impact of counter-terrorism laws.

The authors of the third article review the thresholds for declaring famine under the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, and analyze the empirical information on which the declaration was based. They also note some of the issues arising from the analysis of field data collected not only in the midst of a major crisis, but also in a counter insurgency war and in very inaccessible places.

The last article listed below summarizes the lessons learned from the response to the 2011–2012 Somalia famine, and considers how improvements might be designed and instituted. The authors revisit the question of early warning and the late response; take up some of the major issues arising out of the response to the famine; and consider access and humanitarian “space.” Critically, they also address the issue of accountability, and accountability mechanisms still needed to prevent future famines.

Video Abstract: Somalia Famine: Competing Imperatives, Collective Failures 2011-2012
November 2016

Dan Maxwell discusses the findings the book he co-authored with Nisar Majid. The book analyzes the famine, the humanitarian, and the community responses. Watch the video to learn more about...

Another humanitarian crisis in Somalia? Learning from the 2011 famine
January 2015

In July 2014, humanitarian agencies and the government of Somalia raised the alarm of a new severe drought in Somalia, three years after the deadly famine that killed more than...