Somalia: Rapidly rising food prices and deepening drought, more than 2.6 million people are in crisis
For the first 600,000 time, urban poor an (20% of total urban population) living in main towns and ruralestimated settlements are now facing conditions of Acute Food and Livelihood Crisis and Humanitarian Emergency, as they struggle to cope with sky rocketing food and basic commodity prices, according to the just released results of an FSAU Somalia-wide Rapid Emergency Urban Assessment (April, 2008). Cereal prices, both commercial imports (rice) and locally produced (maize and sorghum), which have increased by 110 to 375% in the last year, are two to three times higher than their five poor are struggling to cover their basic needs as the cost of a minimum food basket is now more than double what it was last year. The urban poor are adopting a combination of coping strategies to deal with this crisis. Some of the strategies include reducing their overall expenditures on food by cutting down on the amounts of food they buy (cereal, sugar, and oils), switching to cheaper cereals (from commercial imported rice to locally produced sorghum) and lower quality cereals, and skipping meals. They are also reducing the amount of soap, kerosene, and firewood/charcoalthey purchase, as well as medicines. The survey results also indicate that many of the urban poor are increasing their access to income by searching for opportunities in wage labor and self-employment (charcoal sales), as well as increasing remittances, loans and gifts. 'Despite all these coping strategies', says Cindy Holleman, UN FAO Chief Technical Advisor to FSAU, 'many urban poor households do not have shortfalls ranging between of 10-30% of the total cost'
Somalia is a net-importer of cereals, with 60% of the country's year. Record high international food prices combined with the sharp devaluation of the Somali Shilling of more than 100% in last fifteen months means that and beyond the reach of most poor urban households. Even in a good year, local cereals only cover 40% of the country's food needs and therefore cannot meet of the main seasonal rains (mid-April to June) indicates that the country may likely experience another season of poor cereal production, thus leading to shortages and further price increases in locally produced cereals. In many regions, the price of sorghum is already as high as imported rice prices in normal times.
Meanwhile, the drought is deepening in parts of south and central Somalia (Bakool, Hiran and Central Regions), pushing more pastoralists into Acute Food and Livelihood Crisis and Humanitarian Emergency. Pastoralists have been struggling to cope with two consecutive seasons of rain failure, deteriorating rangelands conditions, high priced trucked water, deteriorating commodities, an influx of IDPs, and increased over the last three months as a result of an unusually harsh dry season, the worst in recent memory, and now the main seasonal rains due in April have not started. Conditions in other areas are also rapidly deteriorating, including coastal areas of the Shabelle Region and pastoral areas in northern Somalia (Sool, Nugal and Hawd).
FSAU issues an early warning that the humanitarian situation may continue to deteriorate and worsen in the coming months, especially for the urban poor and drought affected rural communities. The number of people in need of assistance could reach up to 3.5 million people or half the total population of the country by the end of the year. Contingency planning and preparations for this worst case scenario will be critical if response is to be timely and at the appropriate level.
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