SOMALIA: No longer able to live on 100 dollars a month

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Until a few months ago, Safia Jibril was able to feed, clothe and educate her nine children thanks to the US$100 that her husband's brother in the diaspora sent every month.

"Six months [ago] it was enough to provide my family's livelihood but today the price of one sack of rice has doubled," she said.

"Now if I buy one sack of rice and one of sugar, then I will not have flour, oil or anything to pay my children's school fees," she told IRIN in Gabiley village in the western suburbs of Hargeisa, capital of the self-declared republic of Somaliland.

"We are waiting Allah's mercy," Safia added. "I used to sell some charcoal in front of my house, but today I do not because I spent my capital on the family food [budget]."

Like many Somalilanders, Safia's family has been hit by inflation and high food prices that have especially hurt the livelihoods of the predominantly pastoralist population and created general food shortages.

According to local traders, a sack of rice used to cost $28 six months ago, but this has increased to above $52. The situation has been aggravated by the fact that Somaliland imports virtually all its food.

"We can no longer buy anything from the market because the price of foodstuffs has increased," said Fatouma Ahmed, a mother of five children who used to provide for her family by selling tomatoes near the State House.

Mohamoud J. Osman, an agro-pastoralist from Juffa, 11km north of the Ethiopia-Somaliland border town of Wajale, which lies to the west of Hargeisa, said he could no longer afford grass for his livestock.

"I have just returned from Mada-wein [village, south of Hargeisa]," he told IRIN. Used to feeding his animals on sorghum, he has had to stop because the price of the cereal has risen. "I sold one ox [so] I could buy grass for my other animals," he said.


Hargeisa District Court Chairman Abdirashid Bergel said economic difficulties have strained families. Since January, at least 242 families have broken up, compared to 117 over the whole of 2007.

According to Abdirashid, the break-ups have largely resulted from the current economic slump and rising prices of food.

Local traders said the situation has also impacted on business. In Burao market, for example, sales of livestock, which used to be a booming business, have slackened.

Farmers from Togdheer region, who mainly used to supply the livestock, have reduced deliveries because prices have fallen. Currently, a sheep sells for about $38 - less than a bag of rice.

Meanwhile, the government is attempting to calm nerves. "The high price of food is not only in Somaliland; it is a problem throughout the world," the commerce ministry said in a recent statement. "The government does not tax food items [because] it is too little compared to other [taxable] items."

The minister, Osman Qasim Qodah, said the government was urging Somalilanders to eat cheaper, local items instead of imported food.

The worst for Somalia is not over yet, however, according to forecasts by the US-funded Famine Early Warning System (Fews Net) and the UN Food and Agricultural Organization's Food Security Analysis Unit (FSAU).

The two organisations, in a June update, noted that the overall performance of the 2008 ‘gu’ rains in Somalia had been poor - although some pastoral areas in Juba and Gedo received good rains.

Areas like northern Bakool, Lower and Middle Shabelle regions, Hiran, and most of northeast, northwest, and central regions; in many cases received less than 40 percent of normal rain during April, May, and June.

"As a result of the below normal rains, crop germination and development has been poor in most of the key cropping areas, with some sorghum producing districts (including Saakow in Middle Juba and Bardhere in Gedo) experiencing crop failure," the update said.

On livestock, it noted that body conditions for cattle, sheep, and goats were poor throughout Somalia due to low rainfall in the ‘deyr’ 2007/08 season, followed by a very harsh ‘jilaal’ dry season (January to mid April 2008).

Milk availability and calving rates of camels in Sanaag, Togdheer, central and Bakool regions had also been affected. "In May, the total number of livestock exported through Bossaso and Berbera ports dropped significantly," it said.

Somaliland, which has an estimated population of 3.5 million, relies on livestock as the backbone of its economy. Government statistics show that 55 percent of the population is either nomadic or semi-nomadic - with 45 percent living in urban centres or rural towns.

In April, the governor of Somaliland's Togdheer region warned that extensive drought and high inflation had pushed many families, both nomadic and urban, to the brink of starvation. About 350,000 people live in Togdheer.

"People are suffering not only from the drought but also a very high level of inflation, putting food out of reach of the many," Jama Abdillahi told IRIN.