A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
A new survey of people across 40 regions of Somalia by international agency Oxfam has found that water and food shortages are at critical levels and likely to deteriorate in parts of the country over the coming months, risking a prolonged humanitarian crisis well into next year.
While results show a return to famine is unlikely, the situation in the south of Somalia – particularly in Gedo, Lower Juba and Bakool regions – remains critical with alarming malnutrition figures. A poor harvest, depleted incomes and high food prices are forcing people across the country to rely increasingly on aid and leaving them vulnerable to a growing threat from preventable diseases.
A critical moment for Somalia
The aid agency is calling on the humanitarian community to maintain support for Somalia at what it believes is a “critical moment.” With other emergencies unfolding around the world, it fears there is a danger the international community will turn its attention elsewhere and is warning that without sustained aid many more Somalis may fall back into crisis.
Oxfam surveyed more than 1,800 households and held 240 focus groups in 40 regions of the country between July and August 2012 to find out the impact of poor rainfall during the Gu rainy season between April and June.
The poor rains, combined with the loss of livestock and income during last year’s drought, have left almost three quarters of people questioned concerned they will not have enough to eat over the next four months. Overall, incomes were found to be two thirds lower than during a normal Gu season putting increasing reliance on support from agencies.
Oxfam survey: Families skipping meals
The survey found that Somalis are resorting to a range of coping strategies, with families cutting down on meals and trading in cattle for goats.
Oxfam’s Country Director for Somalia Senait Gebregziabher said: “Thankfully it is unlikely Somalia will fall back into famine in the near future and life in Mogadishu is starting to improve but it is clear many of Somalia’s poorest people are still living on a knife-edge. The international community must not allow a false sense of security to develop based on shoots of recovery in the capital – we must act now across the whole country to avoid a worsening crisis.”
Nearly half of people questioned (42 percent) were regularly skipping meals, with a fifth of people cutting the size of their meals to share limited supplies with their children and Oxfam is concerned about the disproportionally high death rate of pregnant women.
A particularly worrying picture came from the southern regions of Gedo, Lower Juba and Bakool where people remain in crisis. The most vulnerable families have not managed to grow enough food or restock their livestock sufficiently after last year’s crisis.
A 'perfect storm'
Senait said: “A ‘perfect storm’ of last season’s poor rains, crop failure, death of livestock and insecurity mean people who were only just coping last year are now heavily reliant on aid. In many areas people do not have enough to eat or clean water to drink. People told us they are surviving on 50 cents per day. Now there are predictions of flooding in South Central Somalia, which threatens to destroy what little people have.”
Some women in rural areas said they had to walk up to 18 kilometers (round-trip) to collect their household’s daily water supply, fearing for their safety throughout the journey. Household budgets in some areas are also being affected with families being forced to spend more of their family income on trucked water.
Evidence of waterborne disease is increasing and 32 people are reported to have died in a suspected cholera outbreak. There are fears that without treatment of water and clean water sources, these figures could quickly escalate.
Oxfam scaling up flood response
Added to this, flooding is already affecting Belet Weyne in Hiran province and more is expected over the coming months. Oxfam’s partners are already scaling up their response but flooding will make access to clean water even more challenging, with an increased risk of contamination around crowded water points.
Oxfam says long-term support and engagement to tackle the systemic problems which turn recurrent droughts into humanitarian emergencies is essential. While the security situation across most of Somalia remains fluid and resolving the chronic conflict is key, investment in better water management, road rehabilitation and increased agricultural planning is essential to help people cope better with food and water crises.
Download the Oxfam media briefing: Somalia Food and Livelihoods Alert (8 Oct 2012)
Notes to editors
The survey was conducted across South Central Somalia and Puntland through a combination of:
- Household interviews, with a total of 1,802 households participating.
- A series of 240 community based focus group discussions held to collectively discuss issues and fill gaps that arose during the household interviews.
- Direct observations by the assessment team.
For more information and interviews contact:
Geno Teofilo, Oxfam in Somalia Media Lead +254 737 500 035
Alun McDonald, Oxfam Media and Communications Officer +254 736 666 663