Somalia: Falling incomes, rising malnutrition in the Sool Plateau

Originally published

Due to falling incomes and rising malnutrition, an estimated 11,170 highly food insecure households in the Sool Plateau pastoralist food economy zone need urgent humanitarian assistance.


The 2003 gu rains (April-June) largely failed in the Sool Plateau. Most better-off households migrated with their animals to other areas, leaving a growing number of poor households. After four years of successive rain failures, poor livestock productivity and significant livestock losses, pastoralist households face fewer options for obtaining food and income. The Food Security Assessment Unit (FSAU) estimates that over 50% of the sheep, goats, and camels have died over the past four years. Income from the sale of livestock and livestock products (milk, ghee and meat), that normally accounts for 80% of total annual income, has dropped in half as the number of marketable animals and their prices decline. Market purchase of food staples, which used to supply about 68% of daily calories, has slipped to 52% with the erosion in household purchasing power, even though staples are generally available. Livestock must rely on water trucked in from distant sources, but a 200 liter drum of water now costs up to SSh 45-50,000, 9-10 times the price in normal times.

Poor households increasingly resort to extreme coping mechanisms (such as culling new-born calves to save the mothers) and environmental degradation (particularly cutting trees for charcoal making), which further weakens their livelihood base. A nutrition survey by FSAU, UNICEF and the Somaliland Ministry of Health in May-June found that global acute malnutrition (GAM) rates reached serious (12.5 percent) levels in children (based on WHO categories). Screening of children registering at UNICEF supplemental feeding centers in August found GAM rates well into the critical range (20 percent). Malnutrition trends are likely to continue upward as households divert food expenditures for increasingly expensive water. FSAU estimates that poor households are consuming only 65-75 percent of their calorie requirements.


For the short term, FSAU and others recommended water trucking, cash for work, and targeted general food distributions in the highly vulnerable areas of the Sool Plateau for 1-2 months. WFP distributed 112 MT of food aid during July and August to about 1,200 households while UNICEF provided rations through its supplementary feeding programs. These distributions provided temporary relief, though many needy households were left out. Starting October 6, a multidisciplinary inter-agency team led by UNDP and OCHA (including FEWS NET) is reassessing short- and medium-term options in the Sool Plateau, looking into food security, water and sanitation, pastoralist livelihoods and coping strategies, health and nutrition, environment and education issues.

This Warning will be updated on the basis of the Sool Plateau assessment report expected later this month.

FEWS NET is funded by the US Agency for International Development and implemented by Chemonics International Inc. For further details, please visit the Somalia Country Center at