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Somali Diaspora Helps Nation Through Crisis

Somalis carrying their belongings wait outside an internally displaced camp in Mogadishu, Somalia, after they fleeing from southern Somalia due to lack of food and water, July 5, 2011

A food crisis in the Horn of Africa is affecting millions of people as some areas are hit with the worst drought in 60 years. Abidirashid Duale is CEO of Dahabshiil, which operates in almost 150 countries around the world. The global money transfer company sends more than $1 billion to Somalia every year.

Duale spoke to VOA in London, from where Dahabshiil caters to the growing Somali population in Britain, about how diaspora communities will help the region survive. He said when drought hits, Somalia’s diaspora responds by sending home money.

“Normally when it comes to this kind of season and when there is a crisis, individual people who are in the diaspora will want to send money back home,” Duale said.

Every year around $1.5 billion worth of remittances are sent to Somalia through Duale’s company. He said on average, people send home a few hundred dollars a month. He said when crisis happens, that can shoot up to more like $1,000.

He said that’s what’s happening now. Drought in Somalia is creating a major food shortage. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, one-quarter of Somalis are either internally displaced or living outside Somalia as refugees.

Duale said remittances are an important way for people to make sure those they love get through hard times.

“They will definitely want to send through money to specific persons, like somebody sends it to their wife or their mother or their children and to pay their school fees and health - so it's money going to different destinations,” he said.

Ian Bray is a spokesperson for the Britain-based charity group Oxfam. He said both remittances and aid are needed to help countries in crisis.

“People need cash really and that will enable them to buy food. But one of the biggest problems people in Somalia will be facing is the high food prices," said Bray. "For example, sorghum, which is the staple diet in certain areas, that has gone up by 240 percent in a year. So food needs to get there so that brings that price down. But people will need food to buy things.”

A group of Britain-based aid organizations, including Oxfam, have made a public appeal for funding in order to help people in East Africa and the Horn.

They say their emergency responses in the region are facing a funding shortfall of over $100 million. Bray said there are major issues that need immediate attention. He said Somalia, a failed state that has been immersed in civil war for two decades now, does not have the means to cope with drought. He said basic needs must be met.

"The key efforts will be supplying safe, clean water," said Bray. "This is extremely important, especially in some areas where you will have acute watery diarrhea. We will also be helping with sanitation, as well. Where you have places where people have congregated in large numbers, dealing with human waste safely is extremely important because that can lead to disease."

The United Nations has called for international aid across the Horn of Africa where it says around 10 million people are affected by the drought.