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.
Following last year’s food crisis in Somalia which affected millions of people, the humanitarian situation in the country has largely fallen off the news agenda. We have recently seen a rush of stories about how things are improving in Mogadishu, the changing of the president, and conflict around Kismayo, but little attention has been paid to the rest of the country.
This year, the main rainy season (called the Gu rains) that should last from April until June was poor. To find out the impact of the poor rains, Oxfam conducted a survey over July and August. Our research revealed that despite improving conditions for people in Mogadishu, the situation remains critical for over 2 million people across the south of the country. One of the most striking findings from a survey of over 1,800 households was the disproportionate numbers of deaths caused by preventable pregnancy related complications.
Pregnancy risksOnly 44 percent of women with children under the age of one are breastfeeding. Photo: Oxfam
Half of the families had experienced disease or death in their families. 60 percent of those were from pregnancy related issues such as anemia, hypertension, excessive loss of blood and obstruction during labor. People said they had trouble getting the healthcare they needed because there were minimal health facilities nearby.
Also only 44 percent of women with children under the age of one are breastfeeding which leads to an increase in illness, malnutrition and premature death in infants.
Access to water
The survey also revealed worrying news on people’s access to food and water. In Gedo, Bakool and Mudug, people expressed concerns about access to water with some women in Gedo telling us that they were making 18km round trips to collect water and they feared attack on the long journeys.
Accessing water from surface ponds and shallow pools without water treatment increases the risk of disease and a recent cholera/acute watery diarrhea outbreak in Lower Juba has killed at least 39 people so far.
El Niño conditions are predicted, which means forecasts of more flooding in Lower and Middle Shabelle, and Middle Juba. With flooding comes increased risk of water contamination, and damage and silting up of water sources.
Access to food
More than 70 percent of people asked predicted they wouldn’t have enough to eat in the next four months, with over 40 percent saying they were already skipping meals. You need to put this into the context of families already facing acute malnutrition – missing meals is much more serious than it can sound to some of us.
This is interesting given the reliance on livestock across Somali pastoral communities. We found that goat prices were remaining steady but families didn’t want to sell as their herds had been heavily depleted during last year’s drought. The other main shift is the huge decrease in cattle ownership and a smaller increase in more drought resistant animals like goats and camels.
Reliance on aid and the need for long term investment
Two main learning points emerged from the survey which will inform Oxfam’s work in Somalia going forward.
Firstly, the international community needs to keep humanitarian aid coming – with myriad other crises across Sahel, DRC, Sudan, and other places – we know that budgets are spread thinly and this is a warning to all of us that we need to maintain focus in Somalia to prevent people falling back into crisis.
Secondly, all agencies involved in Somalia need to build resilience of Somalis to deal with repeated crises. “Resilience” in humanitarian response has become a popular buzzword but now is the time for us all to put this into practice in Somalia.
This means programs like:
- Cash for work to help people in emergency situations carry out activities such as tree planting and rangeland improvement that should help land to be productive even when rains are insufficient;
- Restocking programs for pastoralists;
- Rehabilitation of canals: providing short term jobs and long term irrigation for crops;
- Training young people in skills that help them earn a decent living meaning they and their families are less likely to run short when prices rise;
- Sustainable provision of clean water and health which means people are stronger and healthier and more able to cope when food availability declines.
Download the full report: Somalia Food and Livelihoods Alert (PDF, 304 KB)