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

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

Analysts say move by President Xi is an effort to win more party support, take step toward economic reforms, removing those who would stand in way of change More

South Africa Land Reforms Still Contentious 20 Years Later

Activists argue that the pace of land reform is slow and biased; legal experts question how some proposed reforms would be implemented More

In Vietnam, Religious Freedoms Violated, UN Finds

Beliefs reportedly prompt heavy surveillance, intimidation and travel restrictions 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.
Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelteri
X
Scott Bobb
July 30, 2014 8:16 PM
Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video A Summer Camp for All the World

VIDEO: During workshops and social gatherings, the Global Youth Village summer camp encourages young people to cooperate and embrace their differences, while learning to communicate with people from other countries. VOA's Deborah Block has more.
Video

Video From Cantankerous Warlock to Incorruptible Priest, 'Harry Potter' Actor Embraces Diverse Roles

He’s perhaps best known as Mad Eye Moody, the whimsical wizard in the Harry Potter franchise. But character actor Brendan Gleeson's resume includes dozens of films, and he embraces all the characters he inhabits with equal passion. In an interview with VOA’s Penelope Poulou, Gleeson discussed his new drama "Calvary" and his secret to success.

AppleAndroid