News / Africa

Aiding Somali Herders a Factor in Fighting Famine

Livestock drink from a water point in the Kenya-Somalia border town of Liboi July 29, 2011
Livestock drink from a water point in the Kenya-Somalia border town of Liboi July 29, 2011
TEXT SIZE - +
Michael Onyiego

With Somalia's famine spreading, experts are looking at new strategies to address the crisis that go beyond simply feeding people.  

The town of Dobley sits just 18 kilometers from the Kenyan town of Liboi, and just three kilometers from the officially closed Kenya-Somalia border.  The dusty desert town was controlled by Islamist insurgent group al-Shabab until early April, when - after three days of fighting - government forces with allied militias beat Shabab back, creating a buffer zone 90 kilometers to the north and 30 kilometers to the east and south.

Though Dobley is no longer on the front lines of Somalia's civil war, it has in recent months been at the front lines of the Somali famine.  Dobley is often the last stop for displaced Somalis travelling to the sprawling refugee camps in Dadaab, Kenya.  Families often pause in Dobley, taking a few days to recover for the final push into Kenya.

But with no permanent international humanitarian presence on the Somali side of the border, the town of about 5,000 families must do what they can to help the famished refugees.

According to local shopkeeper Abdullahi Abdisalam, this can cause problems for the local residents.

Abdisalam's business has suffered since the drought.  With economic conditions in Dobley already quite dire, Abdisalam says providing help for the internally displaced Somalis has drained his already limited resources.

And while around 5,000 families live in Dobley, many thousands more in the surrounding area rely on the town for survival.  

With the drought wreaking havoc on Somalia's countryside, as many as 50,000 pastoralist families rely on the town's two boreholes to water their livestock.  It is these boreholes in the town center that reveal a unique truth about Somalia's farmers and the famine itself. The square containing the boreholes is the center of life in Dobley, packed with camels, cows, goats and sheep which their owners keep alive at great expense.

The cost of feeding livestock in Dobley is actually higher than the meat of the animals themselves.  But Luca Alinovi of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says, to these families the animals are everything.

"In people's concept, the life of the individual is at least equal as the one of the animal, often less important," said Alinovi.  "Because animals are the protection of all the family, the subclan and the clan.  Individuals are just members of the clan."

The Dobley market is a testament to how important livestock is to the local population.  For cattle, which cannot forage from the region's remaining shrubs, people purchase bundles of grass imported from Kismayo, nearly 200 kilometers away.

Kismayo is one of the strongholds of the al-Shabab rebels, who have banned all trade with government-controlled Dobley.  As trader Mako Mahamud explains, the grass travels a circuitous route between Shabab blockades before arriving in Dobley - and the price more than doubles along the way.

But people continue to pay for the grass, because without it their livelihoods would disappear.  Luca Alinovi of FAO explains how the refugee crisis in Kenya is closely linked to the livestock in Somalia.

"Slowly, slowly they lose animals," added Alinovi.  "Below 50 head of livestock they start to become agro-pastoralists, [that is] they need also to do some agriculture to keep up.  When they lose below the minimum breeding stock, then they basically have to [move].  And having to go means they become displaced.  And then rebuilding costs 10 to 15 times more than it was costing keeping them in their own livelihoods."

When livestock perish, Somali refugees leave with absolutely nothing, giving them little reason to return home once they reach the safety of Kenya's refugee camps.

For this reason, a controversial new approach to famine relief is gaining currency within the FAO: feed animals instead of people.  This of course does not mean ignoring the severely malnourished who arrive in refugee camps every day, but providing support and sustenance to livestock in Somalia so pastoralists have reason to stay.

There is food in Somalia, but rising prices coupled with the collapse of the local currency means many families simply cannot afford it, even by selling their animals.  The FAO believes a kind of cash-for-work scheme could be utilized to build up famine-resistant infrastructure such as water catchments, while providing people with the resources to protect their most vital assets.

The U.N. organization is pushing for $70 million to test this new approach.  If granted, the FAO could begin the program in Dobley, creating a buffer zone that would help people remain in Somalia and weather the storm.

You May Like

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid