Humanitarian space in Somalia: a scarce commodity

Research reports and studies
April 2012
Laura Hammond and Hannah Vaughan-Lee

Over the past two decades Somalia has become one of the world’s worst and most enduring humanitarian crises; it is also one of the most restrictive and insecure environments for humanitarian actors. 

This paper examines the challenges to humanitarian action in Somalia by considering the meaning of the term ‘humanitarian space’ in practice, and the political–humanitarian dynamics within this space.

It argues that the political economy of aid –the complex interweaving of legal and illegal business transactions, diversion, taxation, etc., and the power dynamics that govern these activities – has become so entrenched that it has eroded trust between stakeholders and increased insecurity for humanitarian personnel and civilians living in conflict zones, severely constraining humanitarian space. 

The analysis focuses on South and Central Somalia, where conflict, drought, displacement, food price increases and economic collapse have led to extreme food insecurity, and where the conflict has been most violent in recent years.