Famine in Somalia

Competing Imperatives, Collective Failures, 2011-12

March 2016 9781849045759 272pp


Some 250,000 people died in the southern Somalia famine of 2011-12, which also displaced and destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands more. Yet this crisis had been predicted nearly a year earlier. The harshest drought in Somalia’s recent history coincided with a global spike in food prices, hitting this arid, import-dependent country hard. The policies of Al-Shabaab, a militant Islamist group that controlled southern Somalia, exacerbated an already difficult situation, barring most humanitarian assistance, while the donor’s counter-terrorism policies criminalized any aid falling into their hands. A major disaster resulted from the production and market failures precipitated by the drought and food price crisis, while the famine itself was the result of the failure to quickly respond to these events — and was thus largely human-made. This book analyses the famine: the trade-offs between competing policy priorities that led to it, the collective failure in response, and how those affected by it attempted to protect themselves and their livelihoods. It also examines the humanitarian response, including actors that had not previously been particularly visible in Somalia — from Turkey, the Middle East, and Islamic charities worldwide.


‘Daniel Maxwell and Nisar Majid’s exemplary account . . . shows in shocking detail how and why a needless disaster unfolded . . . sobering’. — Times Literary Supplement

‘The essential text on the largest, and most overlooked, famine of the 21st century.’ — Alex de Waal, Research Professor and Executive Director of the World Peace Foundation, Tufts University

‘For researchers, practicing humanitarians, or policy makers interested in understanding better what went into the making and unmaking of a ‘complex humanitarian emergency’ in Somalia, this book should be a required part of your reading list.’ — Africa at LSE

Famine in Somalia is a must read for anyone who is interested to learn more about how the humanitarian system’s aversion to risk led to a collective failure to respond to the 2011–2012 famine in Somalia. This should become mandatory reading for anyone involved in humanitarian response.’ — Degan Ali, Executive Director, Adeso

‘Dan Maxwell and Nisar Majid are important commentators on Somalia. Their book is essential reading for those wishing to understand the root causes of an apparently intractable crisis and its more acute manifestations. Famine in Somalia is a must read for anyone wanting to understand contemporary Somalia and other similarly complex contexts which challenge us all.’ — Dr Sara Pantuliano, Head of the Humanitarian Policy Group, Overseas Development Institute (ODI)

‘Maxwell and Majid have penned haunting reflections on the long and lonely days of 2010 and 2011. The authors’ dangerous journey and their penetrating analysis has unearthed compelling evidence of, indeed, a collective failure. They bravely cast light on competing policy imperatives in Somalia at that time, which in fact acted to undermine humanitarian action.’ — Abdullahi Khalif, food security expert and former (2010-2015) Somalia Country Representative for Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET)

‘Maxwell explores the response to the 2011 famine in Somalia, asking what worked and what could have been done better to assist those who bore the brunt. For those of us working to provide humanitarian and development assistance this book is a very important read.’ — Hannan Sulieman, Deputy Regional Director, UNICEF Middle East & North Africa

‘Part documentation, part critical interrogation, Famine in Somalia offers an authoritative account of the horrific 2001 Somali famine. The authors are to be congratulated for an accessible book that builds on multiple sources and represents a must-read for both practitioners and academics working on food security and East Africa.’ — Tobias Hagmann, Associate Professor in International Development, Roskilde University


Daniel Maxwell is a Professor of Nutrition and Humanitarian Studies at Tufts University, Boston.

Nisar Majid is a researcher and consultant specialising in food security and transnational studies with reference to Somali populations.

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