Fleeing Moghadishu to Somalia's shattered breadbasket

A downward spiral of violence, a poor harvest and economic problems spells a bleak future for the displaced in Jowhar. Peter Smerdon went to Kala camp and spoke to people who have fled the violence in Moghadishu.

A downward spiral of violence, a poor harvest and economic problems spells a bleak future for the displaced in Jowhar. Peter Smerdon went to Kala camp and spoke to people who have fled the violence in Moghadishu.

Almost every one of the 400 men, women and children at Kala Goye camp on the outskirts of the dusty southern Somali town of Jowhar has a harrowing story. They fled from Mogadishu and ended up here living in tiny huts built from

We had to leave my father, who is 50 and was a blacksmith but is now an invalid, in the house in Mogadishu because he wasn't strong enough for the journey. I don't know what has happened to him and I can't find out
Hinda Ali Mohamoud

twigs and saplings covered with thin cloth for shade.

Hinda Ali Mohamoud, 17, feels she has the weight of the world on her shoulders as she waits with her baby son during a distribution of food from WFP. Families haul sacks of maize and corn-soya blend past her into their huts crammed into a small compound.

"It was 22 days ago when we left Mogadishu. It was the day after my mother was killed by mortar bombs that hit our house near a police station in northern Mogadishu," she says.

"The next day we left -- me, my baby and my 10 brothers and sisters." Her brothers and sisters are all under the age of 12.

Family in pieces

"So we walked, for five days, all the way here and we’ve been here ever since. We had to leave my father, who is 50 and was a blacksmith but is now an invalid, in the house in Mogadishu because he wasn't strong enough for the journey. I don't know what has happened to him and I can't find out."

Asked where her husband is, she says quietly that she doesn’t know since he divorced her. Asked whether she would ever return to Mogadishu, Hinda says she wants to stay in Jowhar. "I can't ever return to where my mother was killed. I can't go where her footprints are still there."

She washes clothes for people in the town in order to earn some money to pay for bread to feed her family.

“I was away washing clothes when the people came to register us for the food distribution so we haven't got any ration cards so we won't get food," she says.

Rations and survival

WFP officials however said they planned a re-registration at Kala Goye in the coming days to ensure that everyone got rations.

"If you don't wash clothes, the only alternative is to go to farms and pick grass for the farmers to sell as forage for animals," Hinda said. “There’s nothing else to do here, but at least it’s safe.”

Water, water everywhere

In contrast to many towns across arid Somalia, Jowhar has abundant water. Too much of it, say local officials.

The Shabelle River is brown and swollen and in places is bursting its banks even before the short rains start this month. Many of the flimsy huts built by the displaced won’t survive a downpour.

The initial forecasts for the short rains, however, are drier-than-normal conditions for the coming months.

And it was poor long rains from April to July that dealt the latest of a series of blows to Jowhar and the surrounding regions of Middle and Lower Shabelle, traditionally farming regions that were the ‘breadbasket’ of Somalia, producing enough food to feed themselves and export.

Doomed

The rains doomed Middle and Lower Shabelle to produce the worst cereal harvest in 13 years just as they struggled with an influx of more than 80,000 people fleeing fighting in Mogadishu.

On top of this, they are also suffering from hyper-inflation, increased transport costs, a disruption of trade and imports because of insecurity, declining access to basic health services and dwindling job opportunities.

The price of imported rice has risen more than 80 percent so far this year. So with malnutrition in the Jowhar area now rising above emergency levels, WFP is distributing one-month rations to nearly 100,000 people in Middle Shabelle – both farming families who can’t produce enough to feed themselves and the displaced in the camps and surrounding villages.

Tractors, a rare sight in much of Somalia, are still lined up on Jowhar’s main street. Some of them work. But a huge sugar cane mill on the northern outskirts of the town is rusting and in ruins.

Rare sight

“Middle and Lower Shabelle were the production centre for all of Somalia,” says Hawa Mohammed Moallim, deputy director of WFP’s partner non-governmental organisation SAACID, which organises the distributions in Jowhar. “But every time now, there’s drought, or floods or conflict.”

“When the old government was here (until war broke out in 1991), they built and maintained the embankments to stop the river from flooding. But now the irrigation canals are silted and even the dam near here is broken because of the civil war that has touched all of Somalia,” she says.

Seeking refuge

She explains that most of the displaced who have taken refuge around Jowhar are women and children because the men are in hiding back in Mogadishu and trying to protect their homes.

“Usually in Somalia, the fighters don’t kill the women or children so they can escape,” she says.

Moallim watches as SAACID runs a distribution on the northern edge of Jowhar of WFP food to farming families and displaced people with them.

Security

Heavily armed police of the Transitional Federal Government patrol the distribution, keeping would-be looters in check and stopping arguments over bags of maize.

SAACID pays the porters who use handcarts, donkey carts, tractors and trucks to carry families’ rations back to their villages up to 20 kilometres from the distribution.

“Security is OK here, but the administration still isn’t strong,” says Mohamed Hilowleh Guled, the district chief for 23 villages around Jowhar. “We are only farmers and we are neighbours with pastoralists, but sometimes their animals eat our crops and the administration can’t catch them.”

Flooding

“For the last seven or eight years we have had problems with flooding and drought so at times we got food from WFP,” he adds. “That’s why I’m here today. And now the flooding is starting again.”

“Then there are many people who have come from Mogadishu running from the bombs and bullets and we are hosting them. This is another big problem. Six families living in one room,” he says.