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
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

46 people are confirmed dead, but some 250 remain trapped inside sunken ferry More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends 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