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Somalia: helping rebuild a shattered nation
Support to ensure a sustainable peace and improve livelihoods
22 September 2005, Rome -- Somalia is at a crossroads. The relocation of the Transitional Federal Government to the country from neighbouring Kenya in June is a positive step towards ending years of political instability and violence.

The situation remains critical, however, as divisions still exist among senior Somali officials over the government's location, with some favouring Mogadishu and others preferring a temporary seat in Jowhar until security in the capital improves.

Collapsed state

Somalia has had no functioning central authority for the past 14 years, following the collapse in 1991 of the government of President Muhammad Siad Barre and the ensuing civil war, as various factions vied for power.

Support from the international community will be crucial in ensuring the sustainability of fledgling governance structures and improving the overall stability of livelihoods in the country, which consistently ranks among the world's poorest.

More than 350 000 Somalis are refugees and up to 400 000 have been internally displaced by years of conflict and recurring drought. About 85 percent of the country's 7 million people depend on agriculture or livestock for their livelihoods.

In recognition of the complexity of the emergency situation, as well as the need to support the transitional government during this pivotal period, FAO is stepping up its presence in the country. In May the organization appointed a full-time officer in charge of its operations in Somalia, which were previously handled by the FAO representative in Kenya.

"The transitional government, having just gone back to the country, are finding their way, and we will assist as much as we can with the resources we have," says Graham Farmer, who heads FAO's operations in Somalia from offices in Nairobi. "The needs are great. If you want to set up a ministry from scratch and better the conditions of rural populations, this takes lots of resources, which have to be found from the donor community."

FAO's activities in Somalia currently focus on the provision and analysis of food security and nutrition information, emergency assistance to drought-, flood- tsunami- and conflict-affected farmers, support to food security and nutrition initiatives, support to the livestock trade, and water and land information management. Areas suitable for expansion in the near future include capacity enhancement, livelihoods and, eventually, policy support.

Information and analysis: tools to fight hunger

The main provider of food security and nutrition data in Somalia is the FAO-led Food Security Analysis Unit (FSAU), based in Nairobi. The unit provides information and analysis on food, nutrition and livelihood security to decision-makers within the humanitarian community to enable both short-term emergency responses and long-term strategic planning.

The FSAU issues monthly updates on the food security and nutrition situation in Somalia, seasonal food security projections identifying potential problems and vulnerable areas, in-depth research on key issues, and technical support to partner agencies. (To learn more about the FSAU's most recent information management products, see related story linked at right.)

FAO also implements the Somalia Water and Land Information Management System (SWALIM), which compiles and makes available information about water and land resources, providing technical support to improve water and land policies and interventions in Somalia. Management of the system, which was developed to assist aid agencies in planning and implementing humanitarian and development projects, will eventually be undertaken by the Somali government.

Improving livestock export prospects

Since 2000, a ban on the importation of live animals and meat from Somalia by a number of its traditional trading partners in the Middle East has severely compromised household incomes and food security in the country. The ban was imposed after an outbreak of Rift Valley fever (RVF) on the Arabian Peninsula, where the Horn of Africa was seen as a possible source. While the risk of RVF is no longer seen as a significant threat, the ban has been maintained by Saudi Arabia. This is compounded by the lack of governmental examination and certification of livestock and livestock products in Somalia. It now appears likely that the ban will be lifted through a recent royal decree. FAO will work with Somali authorities to develop appropriate systems to meet Saudi requirements.

"We're working to develop Somali livestock certification boards and to enhance the ability of regional veterinary authorities to carry out disease diagnosis and investigation through training and strengthening of diagnostic laboratories," says Farmer.

Emergency response

FAO's emergency activities in Somalia include ongoing efforts to help fishing communities affected by last December's devastating Indian Ocean tsunami rebuild their livelihoods. FAO is providing fishing gear and other inputs and is helping affected communities form fishers' associations and other organizations to manage and distribute these inputs.

Elsewhere, according to the FSAU, an estimated 920 000 people in pockets throughout the country are in a state of humanitarian emergency or livelihood crisis. Interventions to address the immediate needs for life-sustaining food in areas where food shortages exist must be combined with longer-term strategies to overcome food security constraints and revive local agriculturally based economies, FAO says.

"The overall objective is to restore the productive capacity of vulnerable communities, including the internally displaced, returnees and women and children, to enable them to increase their self-reliance and therefore reduce their vulnerability to future shocks caused by conflict, drought and flooding," says Farmer.

"The biggest challenge is the identification and prioritization of needs, which are massive, and then how do we get the resources to meet these needs," he adds.

FAO is developing one-, two- and five-year programmes to address the country's immediate and longer-term food security needs. The five-year programme ties in with the Somali Joint Needs Assessment currently being carried out by the UN and the World Bank, with teams of Somali and international technical experts working together to develop prioritized initiatives to achieve sustained reconstruction and development and reinforce peace-building.

The resulting reconstruction and development programme will provide a framework for mobilizing, distributing and coordinating related international assistance and will be the basis of a global donor conference to be held in Rome in early 2006.

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Somalia: helping rebuild a shattered nation

Linking information to action


Teresa Buerkle
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 56146
(+39) 348 141 6671 (mobile)

FAO/D. Signa

Over 920 000 Somalis are in a state of humanitarian emergency or livelihood crisis.

FAO/D. Signa

FAO is working to improve livestock export prospects in Somalia.

FAO/D. Signa

Activities are under way to help tsunami-affected fishing communities rebuild their livelihoods.

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Somalia: helping rebuild a shattered nation
Support to ensure a sustainable peace and improve livelihoods
FAO is stepping up its presence in Somalia to support the transitional government during this pivotal period and help improve the stability of livelihoods throughout the country.
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