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Somalia Risks Growing Food Insecurity

Abdulahi Musa, a malnourished five-year-old boy, sits on his mother's lap at Banadir hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia Tuesday, May 20, 2014. Much of Somalia has seen no or erratic rains in recent months and fighting between African Union forces and the Islamic extremists of al-Shabab is cutting off food shipments to many parts of the country and discouraging farmers from planting - as a result, 50,000 children are severely malnourished, says the aid community. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)
Somalia is again facing growing food insecurity. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization blames it on late rains, a poor harvest and ongoing conflict. It’s estimated 800,000 Somalis currently are in need of food aid. Of those, 200,000 are described as malnourished children under age five.
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Senior Economist Shukri Ahmed said $18-million dollars is needed over the next 90-days to scale-up rapid interventions.

“These three months are very important actually because this is what we call the hunger season. It’s usually just before the main harvest. The main harvest starts in August. And this is when you would have depleted you stocks from the earlier crop, which this year was also not very good. It was relatively poor.”

Ahmed said Somalia has some fundamental and chronic problems affecting its food supply.

“Whenever there is some escalation of one or the other, we raise these alarms. It could be the security situation that goes from bad to worse in certain cases – and in others it is the rainfall situation and drought conditions again rearing their head. And in others it is a combination of these things coming together,” he said.

Such combinations, he said, proved to be deadly in the past in Somalia.

It’s not clear whether the late and erratic rainfall is due to climate change. Ahmed says that would require further study. The current conditions, though, are well-known in the region.

“Generally, the eastern Africa, particularly the Horn of Africa – what we know as Somalia, parts of Ethiopia, parts of Kenya and even parts of Tanzania – have this erratic rainfall. And every now and then there is this drought happening. But now that we don’t have infrastructure on the ground – the small irrigation systems that we have are broken in Somalia. And all [these] are coming together actually to create havoc on food security,” he said.

The late and erratic Gu rains – which normally occur from April though June – followed January’s poor harvest in southern Somalia. Maize and Sorghum prices have risen between 60 and 80-percent.

Ahmed said, “There was this escalation of conflict in main producing areas. So it didn’t give farmers enough time actually to prepare their land and to harvest.”

AU, Kenyan and Somali forces continue to battle the militant group al Shabab.

The FAO senior economist said that Somalis have done their best to cope.

“Somalis are resilient people. Generally through trade and exchange and through markets they were able actually to absorb most of these shocks.”

He said the estimated billion dollars in remittances from Somalis abroad were also crucial.

The rapid intervention programs for Somalia include distribution of seeds and vouchers for fertilizers and the use of tractors – pest and disease prevention and control – and a temporary cash for work project to rebuild some infrastructure.

“The canals, the irrigation and working on those and rehabilitating them so that whatever rains come, farmers and others would be able to use them. So the creation of employment is for the productive part, the productive assets of the people, which then help the livelihoods of the population,” he said.

Another part of the rapid intervention includes the restocking of livestock for about 4,000 pastoralists.

The FAO expects conditions to improve slightly in Somalia in August and September when the next harvest should be ready. It says the Gu rains resumed in early May, but would have to continue through the end of June to prevent food insecurity conditions from getting worse.