Conflict-hit countries left to face climate change alone

Complex rules to access climate funding shut out fragile states, starving them of support to adapt to a warmer world.

At the COP28 UN climate summit, governments are expected to endorse a declaration on "climate, relief, recovery and peace" that will aim to channel more support to bolster climate resilience in war-torn and unstable countries. Image: Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Flickr.

Somali aid worker Hasan Mohammad Sirat has almost no tools at his disposal to tackle the devastating effects of extreme weather in his war-torn country, where floods this year have followed hard on the heels of a severe drought.

“We are trying our best,” he said, pointing to awareness measures such as teaching camp residents forced to flee violence and hunger to move to higher ground to escape flooding, which has killed nearly 100 people and uprooted 700,000 since October.

Sirat, a field officer with the Iniskoy for Peace and Development Organization, works in a village near Baidoa city in southwest Somalia, an area that is home to one of the country’s largest populations displaced by insurgency and drought.

Last month, floods swept away his uncle’s house and many camp tents and other buildings in the Baidoa area, leaving families exposed to the elements.

“These people, they are vulnerable - these people have no houses, (they) need shelter,” Sirat said.

But, he added, the authorities in Somalia do not have the funding needed to build safer homes, drainage canals or other infrastructure that can help resist climate shocks and stresses.

Here, as in other fragile states such as Afghanistan and Libya, weak governance systems are an obstacle to accessing global funding to enable communities to adapt to a harsher climate and repair the “loss and damage” caused by disasters.

At the COP28 UN climate summit, governments are expected to endorse a declaration on “climate, relief, recovery and peace” that will aim to channel more support to bolster climate resilience in war-torn and unstable countries.

We need to be able to take this risk - there are successful ways that we can still build resilience to the climate crisis even in these most challenging environments.

David Nicholson, chief climate officer, Mercy Corps

Currently they receive only a tiny fraction of international funding to tackle climate change, leaving their people highly vulnerable to disasters made worse by global warming - such as the floods that burst decrepit dams in Libya earlier this year.

David Nicholson, chief climate officer for global aid agency Mercy Corps, said donors should stop thinking it is impossible to do adaptation work in politically unstable countries, as the money can be channelled through local governments or groups.

“We need to be able to take this risk - there are successful ways that we can still build resilience to the climate crisis even in these most challenging environments,” he told Context.

His group has worked with herders and local authorities on northern Kenya’s borders, for example, where scarcer grazing due to drought is causing tensions, to better manage land by combining pastoralist knowledge and remote sensing via satellites.

Finance hard to access

In the lead-up to COP28, Cindy McCain, head of the World Food Programme (WFP), and Sultan al-Jaber, COP28 president for the United Arab Emirates, called for urgent action to increase climate protection in fragile and conflict-afflicted countries.

They noted in a joint statement last month that people living in turbulent places such as Somalia get up to 80 times less climate finance than those in stable countries.

The COP28 declaration, expected to be launched Sunday, notes that conflict fuels people’s vulnerability and exposure to climate hazards. In turn, climate change harms incomes, homes and wellbeing, exacerbating aid needs and posing “a significant and growing challenge to stability”, it says.

Jenny Wilson, WFP’s climate spokesperson, told Context by email that governments’ commitments at COP28 should “rapidly turn into action plans that provide long-term protection for those in the most fragile and conflict-affected settings.”

Hassan Mowlid Yasin, head of the Somali Greenpeace Association, a nonprofit that supports communities to better withstand climate threats, said his country is seeking more international help to cope with the impacts of warming.

“The major problem is that accessing finance is really difficult,” he said in a phone interview.

According to Clare Shakya, an adaptation finance expert who has long worked with developing countries, all those with “thin” governments, including those at war and small island nations, are struggling to tap into global climate funds.

The process can take several years due to demanding due diligence requirements, she said.

“It’s incredibly high in transaction costs and a country that is distracted by many immediate needs and many immediate emergencies just doesn’t have the capabilities,” she added.

Countries must usually follow the same rigorous rules when applying for funding, favouring larger states with functioning civil service institutions, said Shakya.

Rather than navigating these complex processes directly, Somalia gets its funding through intermediary agencies like the United Nations Development Programme, Yasin noted.

Forced migration looms

Even as countries with low administrative capacity and weak leadership are struggling to deal with fast-worsening climate change impacts, the world is becoming a more dangerous place.

The Institute for Economics and Peace estimated in a 2023 report that a 25 per cent rise in food insecurity increases the risk of conflict by 36 per cent, while a 25 per cent jump in the possibility of water-related challenges like drought escalates the likelihood of conflict by 18 per cent.

An analysis by Mercy Corps found that the 10 most fragile states received less than 1 per cent of total climate adaptation finance in 2021, amounting to just US$223 million.

That year, international funding for adaptation in developing nations dropped by 14 per cent to US$24.6 billion, even as total climate finance rose by 7.6 per cent, according to new data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. 

Those figures prompted OECD chief Mathias Cormann to flag “a pressing need for international providers to significantly scale up their efforts” on adaptation finance, in line with a commitment to double it to at least US$40 billion a year by 2025.

Even when money is short for longer-term adaptation, resilience experts say providing aid in the run-up to a disaster can reduce the need for food and other emergency relief later.

In Somalia, with heavy rains forecast, WFP activated its “anticipatory action” programme this year, providing people with information and help to protect their homes before flooding hit.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that every dollar it has spent on protection before a disaster has produced US$7 in benefits and avoided losses for families.

But funding remains an issue even for global agencies like WFP, which said it would struggle to scale up its anticipatory action work in Somalia without more donations.

Nicholson of Mercy Corps said a continued lack of adaptation support for communities in fragile places would force people to migrate away from areas that are no longer liveable.

“It’s going to become such a scale that it’s going to completely overwhelm the geopolitical system and could have pretty devastating effects,” he warned.

This story was published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit

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