GLOBAL INFORMATION AND EARLY WARNING SYSTEM ON FOOD AND AGRICULTURE 

SPECIAL ALERT NO. 293

SOMALIA

8 July 1999

(Circulated only for countries where foodcrops or supply situation conditions give rise to concern)

SOMALIA FACES A MAJOR FOOD CRISIS

The cumulative effects of adverse weather, the long-running civil war and uncontrolled crop pests and diseases have precipitated famine conditions in the country, particularly in the southern regions. The current main "Gu" season has largely failed due to erratic and insufficient rains, armyworm outbreaks, and unusually high temperatures. Intensified inter-factional fighting has compounded the problem. The failure of the current crop follows six consecutive poor harvests since 1996, resulting from droughts and the unprecedented floods of early 1998 associated with the El Niņo phenomenon.

Since December 1998, FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS) has alerted the international community, through its regular reports, of an emerging food crisis in the country. In April 1999, the System reported that the food crisis was deepening, following yet another poor harvest of the secondary "Deyr" harvest, with reports of starvation-related deaths and increasing malnutrition in the population, particularly in the south. Hopes were pinned on a possible improvement in weather conditions during the main season, "Gu", which was just beginning, and an appeal was made for the supply of adequate inputs to farmers for the season. Unfortunately, the "Gu" season has also largely failed. Water levels in the Shabelle River are reported to be below normal, reflecting below-average precipitation and reducing irrigation possibilities. An outbreak of armyworms has been reported in Lower and Middle Juba, Lower Shebelle, Bakool and Hiran regions.

The food outlook for 1999 and beyond is extremely grim. Traditional coping strategies for most households have been virtually exhausted, while commercial and economic activities have been severely curtailed by factional fighting and insecurity, forcing large numbers of people to move in search of food and safety. Cereal prices are on the increase while prices of livestock continue to fall. The recent lifting by Saudi Arabia of an import ban on Somali (and other countries of the Horn) livestock, previously imposed because of an outbreak of animal diseases, was expected to bring much needed relief to livestock producers. However, livestock prices are reported to be falling due to weight loss caused by a shortage of grazing and water, and probably distress selling. Malnutrition is reported to be high and increasing. The already precarious food supply situation is set to deteriorate further in the coming months with renewed fighting in parts, and more population displacement. Current estimates indicate that some 70 000 people have been displaced by food shortages and insecurity. It is estimated that more than 1 million people face serious food shortages, with over 400 000 at risk of starvation.

For the 1998/99 marketing year (August/July) total food aid requirements were estimated by FAO at 125 000 tonnes, including about 52 000 tonnes of emergency food aid. As of early July, only a quarter of the emergency food aid need had been delivered. With the failure of the main season, however, continued large scale food assistance will be required well into 2000. The international community needs to devise ways of reaching and assisting the increasingly desperate populations, despite the serious obstacles hampering food relief distributions, failing which starvation on a large scale cannot be ruled out. Most households will also need seeds and other inputs for planting during the next growing season.

 

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO Secretariat with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact Mr. Abdur Rashid, Chief, ESCG, FAO, (Telex 610181 FAO I; Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): GIEWS1@FAO.ORG) for further information if required.

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