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Famine Strikes the Horn of Africa


Using over 10,000 separate data points on rainfall, food prices and refugee movement, this VOA exclusive tells the story of how Somalia descended into famine.

In most years, Somalia experiences two distinct rainy seasons: one in the spring and a second, heavier one in the fall. While this pattern varies from year to year it is fairly predictable. Mouse over the years at right to see average rainfall patterns.

But last year, the fall rains never came to southern Somalia, the breadbasket of the country.

As the crops failed, food prices began to rise, especially for staples like maize, sorghum and cowpeas. And global commodity prices were already high and volatile - prices spiked in 2007-2008 and had not yet returned to pre-2007 levels when this crisis hit.

Conversely, the drought pushed cattle prices down as livestock flooded the markets. With water and forage scarce, herders had little option but to try to sell the animals rather than take the risk they would die later.

Below are the average prices for 12 different commodities from 22 cities across Somalia.

  • 2010
  • 2011
  • Showing average values of all sampled markets.

You can explore prices by city below. Cities to the south saw far greater prices increases to cities in the north.

Droughts and crop failures are not unique to Somalia, but other factors make the country less able to deal with these crises. Because Somalia has a weak central government and al-Shabab dominates in parts of the country, a single shock to the system can bring disaster.

Areas where seasonal rains did not fall and commodity prices spiked fell victim to famine, and are seeing massive human migration.

This pattern of drought, food scarcity and, finally, famine has plagued the region for over 20 years. This graph shows number of Somali refugees since 1987.

This year is likely to be the worst Somalia has experienced since 1992. The Dadaab refugee camps, in northeast Kenya, currently hold more than four times the people they were designed to house. According to the U.N., about 1,500 Somali new refugees pour into Kenya each day.

Below is a graph of global Google searches for the words "Somalia" and "famine." Global interest in the story spiked after the U.N. officially declared a famine in the region, but has recently started to decline.

The camps continue to fill.

Below are news sources covering the crisis in the Horn of Africa. The first column displays tweets from journalists and aid workers in the region. The second column shows pictures from Somalia. The third links to reporting on the crisis from news outlets across the web.

Rainfall Estimates for Juba Dhexe

  • 2010
  • 2009
Click on a rainfall icon for more details.
Click on a market icon for more details.

Estimated Food Insecurity Assessment

  • Stressed
  • Crisis
  • Emergency
  • Catastrophe/ Famine

All boundaries are approximate.

For the most recent information, please visit:

Trendlines show average value of commodities from 2002-2011. Not all markets carry all commodities.

Click on trendline to filter markets.

Note: trendlines represent pattern directions, and not equivalent prices between different products.

Credits

  • Rainfall estimation data courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey
  • Commodity prices courtesy of Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit - Somalia
  • Famine information courtesy of USAID / FEWS NET (Famine Early Warning System Network.)
  • Programming and research by Edin (Dino) Beslagic
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