Somalia: What Difference Does A Year Make?

WFP Public Information Officer Susannah Nicol has visited Somalia several times over the last year and spoken to families who fled the famine and conflict in the south.  She looks back on the year since the famine declaration, charting the progress of relief efforts and the experiences of two mothers who have received WFP assistance.

NAIROBI -- At the beginning of June 2012, a young woman called Amina Mohammed made the decision to leave her home in the Bay region of southern Somalia.  Still recovering from a recent miscarriage, she somehow found the strength to begin the trek north with her four-year-old daughter.  Her elderly parents had already gone, forced to leave her behind because she had been too weak to travel.

The family had worked on the land, growing crops like sorghum and beans, and had owned livestock.  They had managed to store up some food so even during the drought of 2011, they had some reserves.  But then their animals were herded up, their silos emptied and all were stolen.

“Not one single grain, I had no camels, no cattle, no goats. I had nothing,” Amina says.

Added to that, conflict around her home village, Kansahdhere, was increasing and eventually her community were warned to leave, else face the consequences of the battle that was about to ensue.

Amina holding her little girl who is closing her eyesAmina made it to the Kabasa IDP camp, in Dolow, a small town in the southern region of Gedo.  She’s one of the recent arrivals at the camp, which has become home to thousands of people since the famine was declared a year ago. Most lost their crops and livestock to a combination of drought and conflict.

WFP has reached a third of a million people in the southern border regions alone over the last year.  This is quite an achievement because a year ago, WFP was not able to work in southern Somalia, except for in Mogadishu.  Dolow could be reached by air but not by road due to the hostile forces in the surrounding areas.

Nevertheless, within 10 days of the declaration of famine, WFP was able to get funds to airlift emergency supplies of High Energy Biscuits and the ready-to-use fortified nutritional food, Plumpy’Sup, to address this desperate need.

Little by little access in pockets of the south of Somalia improved and airlifts were also used to reach the towns of El Berde, Liboi, Dobley and El Wak. A priority was to help people in their homes, rather than having them suffer the effects of long journeys that some may not survive, as well as ripping apart the social fabric of their communities.

During the past year in the border regions, WFP has re-established old and introduced new corridors of road access for moving large amounts of food. And this access has been crucial as there remain an estimated 1.7 million people still in crisis in the south.

There are nutrition programmes where fortified food has been provided to pregnant and nursing mothers and children under the age of five.  General food distributions target families who are the most vulnerable, especially during the lean season.  IDPs moving to and from neighbouring countries are provided with transit rations.  And there are High Energy Biscuits being provided in schools so that children are sure to get at least some nutrition during the day and will concentrate more ably.

Olea,a 57-year-old mother from Hudur has been in Kabasa camp with her seven children for over six months. She received rations from WFP: a family ration during the lean season, and her younger children have been enrolled in the Blanket Supplementary Feeding programme that is providing fortified food to supplement their diet.  

Asked how the children are now, Olea says: “They are very good, they are in good health, they are well.”

“They were in a bad condition, there was nothing to eat and there were no animals. The people who were moving, some of them died on the way, some were lucky to get here.”

men lifting bags of wfp foodSome of what’s happening in the south mirrors what WFP is doing in the rest of the country, where many more children are receiving either snacks or cooked meals in school and nutrition programmes having more than doubled.

Added to that, there has been a 240 percent increase in the Food for Assets projects where, in exchange for food, communities work on the construction of, for instance, dams and wells, which will build up their resilience to future shocks, such as the droughts, to which the country suffered so desperately last year. Training programmes to enhance existing and enable new skills sets have benefitted over 10,000 people.

In the last twelve months these developments to the World Food Programme’s operations in Somalia saw a scale-up that reached 1.5 million people with over 80,000 Metric Tons of food.

But the crisis is far from over and there are an estimated 2.5 million people still in great need across the country.

The forecast for the coming months suggests there will still be difficult times ahead.  Apart from conflict in the south, the recent Gu rains have under-performed and the yield from the main Gu harvest is expected to be low. By contrast, in other parts of the country, pasture for those tending livestock has improved.

The outlook may not be all bad, but one thing is sure, recovery from such a devastating drought and all that that entails is not a speedy process for anyone and the coming year will present its own challenges.