Djibouti: Drought and high prices increase pastoral food insecurity

Originally published

Food security has deteriorated for inland pastoralists in Djibouti, as delayed March to May rains have resulted in worsening livestock conditions. Milk production is practically non-existent and staple food prices are exceptionally high, further decreasing pastoralists’ already low food access following recurrent years of drought. International assistance for pastoralists to mitigate the effects of the extended dry season is lacking, and the recent influx of refugees from Somalia will further constrain available humanitarian resources.

The March to May short rains in inland Djibouti began six weeks late, and the rainfall that came in mid-April was poor. These rains normally provide an important respite from the October to February dry season, especially in the northwest and southeast border pastoral livelihood zones. Due to the poor March to May rainfall in these areas, pasture, browse and water availability are now below normal, livestock are showing extreme signs of distress and milk production has decreased much below normal levels. Additionally, the urban poor, whose food access is seriously limited by high consumer prices, have started to feel the impact of water shortages, particularly in Djibouti City and Dikhil. These shortages are likely to worsen the already poor state of child health and nutrition.

Figure 1. Current estimated food security conditions, by livelihood zone

Many pastoralist households in the inland livelihood zones (Figure 1) face high levels of food insecurity as a result of the lack of available milk and exceptionally high prices of staple foods. The impact of the poor rainy season will continue at least through July, when the long rains season normally begins. Additionally, the ability of pastoralists in Djibouti to recover from shocks has been severely weakened over the past decade from recurrent droughts, decreased herd sizes, chronically high rates of malnutrition and poor and restricted trade options, including official border closures by Ethiopia – Djibouti’s major grain supplier. However, export potential has been increasing since the construction of the certified livestock export facility.

In response, the Government of Djibouti (GoD) declared a drought in April and appealed to the international community for assistance. The appeal emphasized malnutrition rates that are above international emergency thresholds in both rural and urban areas and calls attention to current shortfalls in international assistance programs. To address these shortfalls, the appeal requested additional support for UNICEF therapeutic and supplementary feeding programs and US$ 6 million for WFP operations in Djibouti through the end of 2007.

Compounding these problems, Somali refugees continue to flee to Djibouti in stressed conditions, following the recent conflict in and around Mogadishu. This new refugee population will add an additional burden to the existing shortfalls in the food aid pipeline.