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
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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact 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.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs