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

Photogallery Early Nigeria Results Show Buhari Leading; Tampering Concerns Mount

One local group monitoring polls is concerned politicians might use security agencies to 'fiddle with the election collation process' at state level More

UN: 7,300 Civilians Killed in Boko Haram Insurgency

A senior UN humanitarian official tells the United Nations Security Council 1,000 people have been killed this year More

Turkish President Warns Iran About Trying to Dominate Middle East

Warning comes amid growing concerns inside Turkey that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor 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.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More