More than 2.6 million Somalis in crisis
Situation could worsen, particularly for urban poor and drought-hit rural communities
Rome, 19 May 2008 – The humanitarian situation in Somalia is deteriorating quickly due to soaring food prices, a significantly devalued Somali shilling, and worsening drought, FAO said today. More than 2.6 million people, or 35 percent of the total population, are in need of assistance – an increase of more than 40 percent since January of this year.
The increase in needs is due mainly to the addition of 600 000 urban poor, who are struggling to meet their household food needs in the face of rapidly increasing food and basic commodity prices, according to a recent assessment of FAO’s Food Security Analysis Unit (FSAU) for Somalia.
The number of internally displaced people from Mogadishu, the capital, has also increased – by over 20 percent since January – and is now at 855 000 people, bringing the total number of IDPs in the country to over 1 million.
Compounding the problem is a worsening drought in parts of south and central Somalia, as well as a deterioration of rangeland conditions in areas in the north due to an abnormally harsh dry season. The delayed and poor performance of the ‘Gu’ seasonal rains that usually fall from mid-April to June point to a well below normal main cereal harvest, which will lead to shortages and further price increases in locally produced cereals.
Around 60 000 pastoralists, already struggling to cope with two consecutive seasons of rain failure, are in acute food and livelihood crisis.
Half of population could be at risk
“If the Gu rains are significantly below normal, the shilling continues to lose value, food prices increase further and civil insecurity worsens, we could see as many as 3.5 million people, or half the total population, facing acute food and livelihood crisis or humanitarian emergency conditions by the end of the year,” said Cindy Holleman, FAO’s Chief Technical Adviser for Somalia. “It’s an extremely worrying situation.”
Contingency planning and preparations need to begin now to ensure a timely and appropriate response should this worst case scenario come to pass, she said.
Record high cereal prices
Cereal prices of both commercial rice imports and locally produced maize and sorghum, which have increased by as much as 375 percent in some areas in the last year, are at historic levels, two to three times higher than their five-year average price.
Somalia is a net importer of cereals, with about 60 percent of its food needs covered by imported cereals in a normal year. Record high international food prices combined with the sharp devaluation of the Somali shilling of more than 125 percent against the US dollar in the last four months means that prices for imported cereals in Somalia will remain at record highs and beyond the reach of most poor urban households.
The urban poor are cutting down on the amounts of food they buy, switching from imported rice to cheaper, locally produced sorghum, which will itself be in short supply if the Gu season fails, skipping meals, and reducing non-food expenditures on items such as soap, kerosene, medicines and schooling.
“Despite all these coping strategies, many poor urban households do not have enough money to meet their basic needs, with shortfalls ranging between 10-30 percent of the total cost,” says Holleman.
Insecurity hinders humanitarian access
Concrete actions are needed to ensure that humanitarian organizations have safe access to areas in crisis, FAO says, noting that it is becoming increasingly dangerous for humanitarian actors at a time of greatest need.
Still, there are many opportunities for rehabilitation and recovery, according to Graham Farmer, who heads FAO’s Somalia operations from offices in Nairobi.
“The security situation is constraining and frustrating, but it hasn’t stopped us,” says Farmer, noting that the UN has around 1 500 people working on Somalia, over half of whom are in the country on any given day.
FAO has taken a lead role in the coordination and monitoring of humanitarian interventions in the agriculture sector.
The Food Security Analysis Unit for Somalia provides the latest information on food security and nutrition as well as early warning signals to allow better planning and response.
The FAO Emergency Coordination Unit in Somalia is implementing an emergency and rehabilitation programme with an overall budget of more than US$35 million for ongoing projects to help rebuild food and livelihood security.
FAO’s activities include support to the livestock sector, through the provision of veterinary services, surveillance of animal health, and promotion of safety and quality assurance practices for meat products; agricultural rehabilitation and diversification, through the promotion of integrated pest management practices, appropriate quality seeds and rehabilitation of irrigation infrastructures; assistance to fishing communities; and support to the private sector, through micro-enterprises associated with agricultural products, providing training and helping establish market linkages.
Boosting production and incomes
“One can bring in food, but an important complementary approach is to get money into these communities,” says Farmer. “We need to boost not only production, but also incomes and livelihoods in rural and peri-urban areas.”
Renovating irrigation canals, for example, increases possibilities for agricultural production but also increases a community’s assets, he says.
FAO has appealed for US$18 401 500 for emergency and rehabilitation assistance in Somalia in 2008. So far it has received US$3 789 000 from the Governments of Sweden and Italy.
Media Relations, FAO/Geneva
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