Somalia’s most recent humanitarian crisis (2022–23) was severe, with an unprecedented series of failed rainy seasons leading to widespread suffering and significant excess mortality. The drivers of the near-famine – drought, conflict, and fragile governance – were largely similar to previous crises in 2011 and 2017; but Somali society is much changed, and the crisis was less devastating than initially feared. Although the humanitarian response started slowly, it grew in scale, with humanitarian aid contributions reaching over US$2.2 billion in 2022 and played an important role in addressing humanitarian needs. But the international response was only part of the story.
Somali capacities to respond to crisis were also vital – and yet they remain poorly understood. Somalia is often seen from the outside as a failed state, home of terrorists and pirates, chronically corrupt, and prone to famine and crisis. But in the decade since the 2011 famine, Somali capacities to respond to crisis have grown, and international aid needs to support those capacities more effectively. This review, which encompassed 118 interviews with local and international aid actors, government, business people, and academics as well as Somali citizens from different backgrounds – and together with a phone survey with 760 respondents – focused on the resilience capacities of the country’s citizens and systems, and how the humanitarian system has engaged with these. The review is not intended to be an evaluation of the 2022–23 humanitarian response. Rather, it attempts to offer a forward-looking perspective on how humanitarian aid might better engage with the changing Somali context to do better and cause less harm in the face of accelerating climate change and ongoing conflict.