Somalia

Keeping hunger at bay: FAO’s cash programmes keep families afloat during drought and a global pandemic

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The cash for work programme enables vulnerable households to meet their immediate needs while rehabilitating productive infrastructure such as water catchments.

When the recent drought wiped out most of the animals in the village of Hayanle, Jariiban district, animal herder, Ahmed Muse Adan, was left with very few resources to survive. Providing for his large family became a tall order. The few remaining animals were too weak and emaciated to help him meet his family’s needs, which consisted of food, medicine and school fees. The 50-year-old, who has nine children, tried in vain to find employment as a casual labourer around his small village. Living in a region that has become increasingly prone to frequent droughts, it wasn’t the first time Ahmed was at his wits end.

“I was among the village folks who were hit hard by the drought and providing for my family became hard. “I attempted to find odd jobs in the village because I have small children who need food on the table, but it was not enough” he said.

Muse’s village, just like many pastoral communities in Somalia, is prone to such shocks. A herder’s livestock are their life’s savings, but when the price of the animals becomes low as a result of poor health or if the animals perish, the families become destitute. With limited or no other income sources to manage a crisis, herders like Muse are forced to seek other odd jobs to sustain themselves often travelling far from their families in search of livelihood. “Most of the population has been affected, and we all had to find other means to provide for our families,” said Muse.

Making sure even the most vulnerable are kept from hunger

To help families like Muse’s overcome such shocks, FAO in Somalia implemented cash for work (CFW) and unconditional cash transfers (UCTs) through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded project, ‘Improving and sustaining food security in rural Somalia’. The two modalities enable vulnerable families like Muse’s to receive short-term cash transfers to meet their most immediate needs while supporting the rehabilitation of community-owned, productive assets that help them to recover, or remain more food secure in the next drought. Cash for work aims to support families who are economically vulnerable but able to work, supporting the rehabilitation of productive assets that provide vital resources such as water for productive use. People involved in CFW are engaged in work for a period of six months. Cash is delivered to registered vulnerable households to support them in meeting critical needs such as food and water, without having to sell their assets leading them to become deeply indebted. Beneficiaries undertake rehabilitation on productive infrastructures that communities need to emerge and recover from drought conditions, thereby saving livelihoods and mitigating the impact of future shocks.

Unconditional cash transfers, on the other hand, are designed to support the most vulnerable families who are unable to work. This may include groups with particular needs such as those living with disabilities, single parents, the elderly and those suffering from a debilitating illness. This ensures that the most vulnerable are supported, even if they can’t participate in CFW. Approximately 20 percent of the targeted households in this project were UCT beneficiaries.

In Phase 9B of the programme that ran from June 2020 to March 2021, FAO re-assessed it’s activities in light of the high risks associated with the global coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Following this, a shift was made to 100 percent UCTs to reduce the risk of bring people together to carry out CFW activities. Despite the global upheavals, and logistical challenges caused by the pandemic, the programme still managed to reach 12 923 households in 42 districts across Somalia. “Due to COVID-19, we found it risky in engaging the locals to do communal work, so we decided to categorize every household as a UCT household. Our target was 13 000 households and we managed to reach 12 923 households despite the challenges. We distributed this money in 42 districts in Somaliland, Puntland, Galmudug and Hirsahbelle through mobile money,” said Mshelia Ishaku, FAO in Somalia’s acting Emergency Programme Coordinator.

Making a little bit go a long way

While the programme was mainly intended to provide support for basic needs like food, for some beneficiaries like Seinab Ciise Mohamud from Qabaal village, Garowe, it was more than that. It allowed the 53-year-old to pay the children’s school fees. “For me, the money FAO gave us did more than the basic needs it was intended for. Besides food and clothing, I was able to pay my children’s fees for school,” said Seinab.

Seinab also said the water in her village is hard and people usually buy fresh water, which, she says, is expensive. But during the whole programme, her family was able to buy the much-needed fresh water, something she wouldn’t have otherwise thought possible in the middle of a drought. “And we were able to buy fresh water throughout the payment period,” she said.

In Muse’s village, a large water catchment that was rehabilitated through the CFW component was enough to provide water for both households and livestock for three months once it filled up with water after the seasonal rains finally returned. Muse, who was appointed as the foreman of the water catchment was able to provide for his family. He was even able to complete his house which he says he left incomplete because of financial issues. “I had no permanent shelter for my children, but before the drought, I decided to build one which I later abandoned when the drought hit. But now, thanks to the cash payment we received from FAO, I was able to finish the house,” he said.

“And besides that, I was able to buy basic commodities for the family and school fees. There were some people who were not around during the registration, and we later decided to collect some money from ourselves and help them. I was able to give out USD 10 for this cause,” said Muse.