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

UN Watchdog Urges Israel to Probe Possible Gaza War Crimes

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in a 51-day war in Gaza, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel More

New Kenyan 'Thin SIMs' Poised to Transform African Mobile Money

Equity's new technology is approved in African nation for one-year trial, though industry leader Safaricom says thin SIMs could lead to data theft and fraud More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid