Mogadishu (Allbanaadir Media) – The year 2022 has been catastrophic for civilians in Somalia, with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reporting that the country experienced the highest civilian casualty rates since 2017.
This spike in fatalities was caused mainly by Al-Shabab, a jihadist group fighting an insurgency against the fragile central government for the past 15 years.
During the review period from late August 2022 to early February 2023, the UN mission in Somalia recorded a 153 percent surge in civilian casualties, reaching a total of 1,059, including 382 deaths.
This alarming increase in casualties was due to mass-casualty attacks by the Al-Shabab group. Guterres described the spike in fatalities as “alarming,” citing that it has resulted in human rights violations, conflict-related sexual violence, and a sharp increase in civilian casualties.
Al-Shabab continues to pose a threat to Somalia
While the Somali army and local clan militias have been victorious in recapturing several areas from Al-Shabab, the group still controls parts of the countryside.
It continues to carry out numerous retaliatory strikes. In the deadliest attack since the government’s offensive, 121 people lost their lives in two car bomb blasts at the education ministry in Mogadishu in October.
Anita Kiki Gbeho, officer-in-charge of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia, spoke to the UN Security Council on Wednesday, highlighting that the Al-Shabab militant group continues to threaten peace and security in the region seriously.
According to Gbeho, 2022 was the deadliest for civilians in the country since 2017, with a 60 percent increase in civilian casualties compared to 2021.
Somalia’s efforts to counter Al-Shabab
The federal government of Somalia has made progress in countering the threat posed by Al-Shabab by targeting their military and financial operations and ideological narrative.
Somalia’s security forces, aided by local militias, have successfully conducted operations against Al-Shabab in HirShabelle and Galmudug states. Gbeho expects the operations to move into other areas of Somalia gradually.
Consolidating gains in the newly recovered areas will require strong linkages between military operations and stabilization initiatives, comprised of reconciliation and justice components to bolster good governance and service delivery.
The funding for the security transition remains a critical challenge. Gbeho has called on donors to stand with Somalia at this challenging time by responding to the newly launched 2023 humanitarian response plan, which seeks 2.6 billion U.S. dollars to meet the priority needs of 7.6 million Somalis.
Challenges facing Somalia’s humanitarian crisis
Apart from the security challenges, Somalia is also grappling with a calamitous drought, displacing over 600,000 people from their homes.
A further 1.3 million, 80 percent of them women and children, have been internally displaced by the drought sweeping the Horn of Africa.
While famine thresholds have not been reached, Guterres warned that 8.3 million people, representing more than half of Somalia’s population, will require humanitarian assistance in 2023.
Guterres emphasized the need for the Somali authorities to ensure that counter-terrorism measures do not infringe on freedom of expression. He expressed deep concern about the arbitrary arrest of journalists and media workers.