News / Africa

Perfect Storm - Why Famine Hit Southern Somalia First

A man from southern Somalia carries the body of his dead child from Banadir hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia, Monday, July 25, 2011
A man from southern Somalia carries the body of his dead child from Banadir hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia, Monday, July 25, 2011
Gabe Joselow

The regions of southern Somalia devastated by famine used to be the breadbaskets [major food-producing areas] of the country. The deadly combination of drought, inflation and the militant group, al-Shabab, however, have turned a food crisis into a famine.

While the rest of the south and other parts of East Africa also are facing a dire food emergency, two regions of Somalia - Bakool and Lower Shabelle - have been hit the hardest and are the only areas currently designated to be in famine. Ironically, these two regions also happen to be among the biggest food-growing areas in Somalia, and in better times, could feed the country.

But a cycle of drought, the worst in 60 years, destroyed the region's last two harvests. United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Somalia Mark Bowden described what happened next.

“What happened was that the sorghum production locally was very badly hit," said Bowden. "That had a knock-on effect in the local economy and caused massive price inflation. So you got people's reserves and assets, which were being held in livestock, but not camels, were severely reduced. At the same time, food prices went up, including imported food, and they had 270 percent price inflation.”

Lower Shabelle, Bakool regions hit hard

Skyrocketing food prices hit the people of Lower Shabelle and Bakool especially hard because many of them are agro-pastoralists, who make a living off of subsistence farming or livestock.  

The drought destroyed their crops or killed the animals they had. And because of inflation, they could not trade remaining livestock for a fair price.

The chief technical advisor of the U.N. food security unit for Somalia, Grainne Moloney, said agro-pastoralists in this region are particularly at risk.

“It's a very vulnerable group, they tend to be marginalized from markets, they tend to be marginalized from the higher-potential cropping areas, they have a very low potential there," said Moloney. "The farmers there are really subsistence farmers and if a rain failure hits them, they have no alternative livelihood.”

Al-Shabab worsens problem

But cycles of drought are not totally uncommon in the area, raising the question of why farmers who knew this were not storing grain or taking other precautions.

Rashid Abdi of the International Crisis Group said part of the blame belongs to the al-Qaida-linked militant group, al-Shabab.

“Al-Shabab have been encouraging cash crop agriculture, especially sesame seed growing in parts of the Shabelle, and this has actually been compounding the problem of food insecurity because communities that used to grow food for themselves, and used to store them in granary for hard times, now have no fallback,” said Abdi.

Bakool and Lower Shabelle are strongholds of the Islamist group, which taxes residents to pay for its war against the central Somali government.

Residents, therefore, were forced to grow crops that would make money and not necessarily sustain them through poor harvests.

Extremists block aid

Al-Shabab's authority in the regions also severely limited the activities of aid groups, who say they could have done more to help vulnerable populations under normal circumstances.

In the end, though, these two regions are really not that much different from other parts of southern Somalia.

It takes three conditions for a region to be declared in famine - extreme food shortages, malnutrition and death. U.N. food security analyst Moloney said Bakool and Shabelle were simply the first to meet all of these grim criteria.

“The defining character was actually the fact that they reached the mortality rates and the other regions didn't, but that's not to say that the other regions are really any less affected,” said Moloney.

If conditions stay the same, the U.N.- and U.S.-backed Famine Early Warning System predicts that the rest of southern Somalia will be declared to be in famine within the next one to two months.

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' 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.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs