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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Hunger and floods threaten Somalia - Oxfam

Katy Migiro
October 09, 2012

 Photo supplied by the non-governmental organisation HARDO
NAIROBI – Worsening hunger, El Nino floods and a lack of long-term investments threaten to tip many Somalis back into crisis a year after famine swept the country, Oxfam said on Monday.
The warning comes despite signs that life is improving in Somalia's battle-scarred capital Mogadishu.

In a survey of over 1,800 households carried out by Oxfam in South Central Somalia and Puntland, 72 percent of respondents were worried they would not have enough to eat over the next four months and 42 percent said they were already skipping meals.

“If we don’t continue the humanitarian aid that is currently getting in, then we could actually fall off the edge of the cliff again,” said Ed Pomfret, Oxfam’s Somalia campaign manager.

Somalia was at the epicentre of a hunger crisis that devastated swathes of the Horn of Africa last year. But Pomfret said the world’s attention had now shifted to the Sahel food crisis and conflict in the Great Lakes region and the Sudans.

More aid is going into Mogadishu where the security situation has improved since African Union forces ousted the al Qaeda-affiliated militant group al Shabaab last year. It is now a bustling city where bullet-riddled houses are slowly being repaired and replaced.

But most of the aid is short term and agencies still find it difficult to work outside the capital.
Although African Union forces and the Ethiopian military have pushed al Shabaab out of most major towns – taking the militia’s last stronghold, the port city of Kismayu, last month – the countryside is still largely under al Shabaab’s control.

Aid agencies have to negotiate access with various militias on the ground on a case-by-case basis.


Some two million Somalis out of a population of nine million are receiving emergency assistance, down from a peak of four million during the famine last year.

People are going hungry again because of poor Gu rains during April to June, the main planting season. Many families have exhausted their food stocks and are now reliant on buying imported grains from the market.

Failed harvests in India and the United States are expected to push up world food prices.
In addition, there are predictions that the next rains – which have started in parts of the country – will be very heavy due to El Nino conditions.

El Nino is a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific that occurs every four to 12 years, bringing above average rains to East Africa. It is the opposite of the very closely related La Nina pattern, which caused last year’s East African drought.

“Too much rain is very bad in terms of your ability to grow crops as well as the immediate impact of flooding,” said Roger Middleton, Oxfam’s policy and advocacy lead for Somalia.

Last week, severe flooding in Beletweyne in Hiran Province killed at least 10 people and displaced 8,000 families. Further floods are predicted in parts of Middle and Lower Shabelle and Middle Juba.
“If you combine a failed [Gu] harvest, too much rain which potentially washes away your fields… and then potentially rising global food prices, that’s a pretty nasty scenario,” said Middleton.


Somalia has been mired in conflict since the overthrow of dictator Siad Barre in 1991, with numerous cycles of war and drought leading to recurrent humanitarian crises.

In January, a report by Oxfam and Save the Children found that humanitarian actors were too slow to respond to early warnings of famine due to donor fatigue and risk aversion.
“There’s fear of investing in Somalia just because of the instability and just because of 20 years of being labelled as a failed state,” said Pomfret.

“But if we don’t do that, this is going to keep happening and this is going to happen every year.”
Oxfam said aid agencies urgently need to invest in resilience programmes to help people cope with shocks, like droughts and floods. These include projects like cash for environmental work like tree planting, restocking of animals and rehabilitation of canals to provide water for irrigation as well as training young people to earn a living.

“It’s not okay to just keep putting a sticking plaster on this,” said Pomfret.
A clear illustration of the lack of investment in long-term development is the extremely high rate of maternal mortality. The survey showed over 60 percent of reported adult deaths were due to pregnancy-related complications.

Fatuma Abdirahman, Oxfam’s humanitarian programme manager for Somalia, said it is hard to get funding for maternal health programmes because they are seen as developmental and people tend to focus on humanitarian programming in Somalia.

“It is kind of scandalous where you have something that is so preventable,” she said.


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