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Looking beyond ourselves – Somalia

This week (16th-22nd July) the prayer cycle of the World Council of Churches has a focus on Somalia on the Horn of Africa, and the tiny adjoining country of Djibouti . The prayer cycle connects us with different places and regions around the world, inviting prayers for others – prayers of praise and prayers of intercession.

Iska warran?” is the standard greeting among both close friends and acquaintances in Somalia which means, “Tell me what is new with you.” Somalis do not consider one another as strangers even if they never met before. It is not uncommon for two Somalis who never met before to meet on a bus ride and strike up a conversation. Before the journey is over, they could be mistaken for friends who have known each other for years. Despite decades of brutal civil war, a Somali will usually trust another Somali they have known for a short time more than a foreigner they have known for a long time. (Source: Pray for Somalia)

There is plenty to pray about in Somalia. Climate change and conflict are wreaking havoc in Somalia with historic drought, floods and a widening war with al-Shabab that have led to the displacement of more than a million people this past year.

As well, Somalia has traditionally sourced more than 90% of its grains from Ukraine and Russia. The war in Ukraine, and Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian wheat, has exacerbated food insecurity in Somalia, and to a crisis that could lead to a famine more deadly than the last one in 2011.

“Somalia’s crisis hasn’t been at the top of donors’ minds since the beginning of the Ukraine war because the humanitarian attention has shifted to the greater Ukraine devastation,” Osman said. “Therefore, the impact of the severe drought that came on the heels of the COVID-19, have largely continued, pushing Somalia closer toward famine.”

Somali economic analyst Ali Mohamed Osman

Following an unprecedented fifth failed consecutive rainfall season in the country and a predicted reduction in humanitarian assistance from April 2023, it is estimated that 8.3 million people in Somalia will be facing acute food insecurity at this time. The numbers of internally displaced people keep rising. More than a million people will have been displaced in the first half of this year.

“These are alarming figures of some of the most vulnerable people forced to abandon the little that they had to head for the unknown”.

Norwegian Refugee Council’s country director Mohamed Abdi

Water shortages have led to increased disease among livestock – even among camels and goats, which are usually more resilient than cows – low birth rates, decreased milk production, and deaths. This leads to a lack of vital nutrition, such as milk and protein, especially for children. Even when livestock aren’t dying, their decreased health and weight have led to reduced value at market, hurting household incomes. Herds often take five years or more to rebuild after catastrophic shocks.

Thankfully, the current rainy season (April – June 2023) was better than expected and a famine appears to have been narrowly avoided by sustained humanitarian assistance and declining food prices. But the crisis is far from over. As many as 1.8 million Somali children under the age of five could still face acute malnutrition through 2023, with an estimated 477,700 needing treatment for severe wasting.

Somalia’s story is not just one of prolonged droughts, either. Climate change has locked the country in a spiral of droughts and floods, with rains flooding the lowlands and displacing more than 200,000 people. catastrophic flooding. Almost the entire population of the central Somali town of Beledweyne was displaced due to flash floods in May this year. Twelve days later, the water had still not receded, leaving critical infrastructure inundated and roads impassable and delaying the arrival of humanitarian aid.

Somalia has the lowest health budget of any nation, and the highest infant mortality rate – nearly 12% of all children die as infants.

About a third of Somalian people are facing acute food insecurity, and about 6.4 million are unable to access sufficient water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning.

In recent years, terrorist group Al-Shabaab has rapidly gained power in Somalia and is now an officially recognised branch of Al-Qaeda. It also has ties to Nigeria’s Boko Haram. People are afraid of returning to areas under the control of al-Shabaab. The militants have tried to stop people from leaving their homes, accusing them of supporting the government and acting as spies. They are terrified of being punished on their return. While foreign aid is sent to the country, Al-Shabaab continues to block aid flowing through to refugees and a starving Somali population, and to block the entry of international aid groups.

Somalian born people living in Australia have mainly come as refugees. In the 2021 census, there were 18,401 people identifying their ancestry as “Somali” with 54% of these residing in Victoria, particularly in suburbs like Flemington, North Melbourne, Carlton, Kensington, Ascot Vale, Fitzroy and nearby areas.

Prayers for Somalia

To be honest, it was hard to find suitable prayers to suggest that capture the gravity of the situation. Even this prayer from a WCC morning prayer seemed disconnected from the current reality (although, of course, the sentiments in the prayer are true and worthy). “Give to them and to us your peace. Give to them and us tranquillity. As we together experience your divine blessings, may our lives be a constant witness of your amazing grace”.

Perhaps to light a candle and sit in a time of silence and connect with God’s compassion and love for all the peoples of the earth may move us in prayer and into action more than words alone can do.

This prayer from Tearfund may be helpful to guide your prayers:

Loving God,

From manna in the wilderness to bread and fish on the mountainside, you have shown your power and generosity in providing for the hungry. We appeal to your power and will to move today in meeting the needs of the millions of people who are facing life-threatening hunger. We hold before you the people made most vulnerable by this crisis, knowing that you see them, you hear their cries, and you are able and desiring to meet their needs.

We know that the limitations facing supply chains and harvests do not limit you. Lord, please work beyond the disruptions, blockages and adverse conditions and make a way for supplies to reach those who desperately need them.

We pray for those who rely on farming to feed their families and earn an income. Encourage those who labour over the land, help them to find solutions and resilience to the challenges they face. God of creation, we ask you to mercifully bring favourable conditions to the land, for planting, growth and harvest. Bring rain in the right amounts and right timing to where it is needed now, softening the land to receive rain when it arrives. Please protect crops from attack from pests and diseases.

Lord, please bring an end to the violence and establish real and lasting peace. Protect those who are working for peace at local, national and regional levels, providing them with strength, wisdom and courage. We trust that you would be especially close to those who have had to flee their homes, or are experiencing trauma. Open the way for them to safely return home, reunite with families and communities, and find healing and comfort.

Jesus, we know that your compassion moves you to respond to the needs of the broken, hurting and forgotten. Thank you for giving us your example of how to respond in Christlike love, and we ask you to show us the unique ways to do this in the context of this crisis.

We pray that your church outside of the regions affected by the hunger crisis would be awakened to the need and moved to action and generosity. We pray that your church within the regions affected by the hunger crisis would be strengthened, encouraged and able to minister to their communities with the hope of Christ.

We pray that those in positions of power, who can make decisions that have the potential to change the course of this global situation, would yield to the movement of the Holy Spirit and act quickly for justice, freedom and compassion.

Lord, we pray for the work of international aid organisations that are faithfully working to respond to the urgent needs of people hardest hit by this crisis. Thank you for positioning them to serve at this time. Please protect them, encourage them, and break down anything that would hinder them, opening up the way for their vital work.

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen