Why is there a food shortage in Somalia?

Unreliable access to food due to a decades-old conflict, low food production, and corruption have pushed more than six million Somalis to the brink of starvation as the war-torn country heads towards famine.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Experts are now warning of an impending famine as 360,000 children are suffering from malnutrition.

Ongoing conflict

Somalia has been in the grip of a civil war for 25 years.  

Al Shabab, an Al Qaeda-affiliated insurgency that aims to convert Somalia into an Islamic state, is making matters worse.

The fighting has affected food production. The United Nations in 2011 declared a famine in the southern parts of the east African nation. Nearly 260,000 died in a country of 10 million people

“Conflict is a major driver of the food crisis in Somalia, as well as the underlying levels of generalised food insecurity and nutrition problems that people of Somalia face. There are chronic levels of food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition,”  World Food Programme’s (WFP) Senior Regional Communications Officer for East Africa Challiss McDonough told TRT World.

The war has forced millions to flee their homes and abandon their livelihoods, which for most involves livestock and farming, leaving little food in the market and higher prices for what is there.

Children suffering from acute malnutrition will have stunted growth. The condition affects their mental abilities, as well as their ability to breathe, and slows down their immune response. (Reuters)

No access to aid

Agencies struggle to deliver aid to areas held by insurgents.

During the 2011 famine, reports surfaced that agencies made payments of up to $10,000 to Al Shabab to allow them to enter famine-struck areas.

Death rates related to cholera and diarrhoea in Al Shabab-held areas were 4.5 times higher than in government-held areas, the UN said.

"We cannot reach people with the most basic interventions such as water purification tablets, soap, or jerry cans to improve their water," the head of the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Justin Brady said.

Without purification tables, families drink infected water and wells dry up due to drought. Cholera has broken out in 11 of 18 regions.

Al Shabab has said they allow people in insurgent-held areas to wander free to look for water, but this has proved futile in the drought-stricken country.

"We do not stop those who want to leave for other places, they are free," the chairman of Al Shabab's drought emergency committee, Sheikh Suldan Aala Mohamed, told Reuters.

Corruption impedes aid delivery

Aid for development and reconstruction purposes disappears while foreign aid fails to reach the central bank.

But despite the dire need for help, critics have questioned whether pouring aid into the area is a sustainable solution to famine.

Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid argued that sending chunks of money to countries will only maintain poverty rather than eradicate it, and will perpetuate a circle of corruption and corruption.

However, relief organisations like WFP have circumvented this by working closely with local organisations instead of the government.

Last year's parliamentary election was mired in controversy after reports surfaced that government officials offered bribes to secure votes.

Farm animals are starving to death from a lack of food and water in the drought. There has been a lack of rain for season after season in the east African country. (Reuters)


Farming families have been hit the hardest as food to feed farm animals has become scarce.

“The main livelihood in Somalia is the raising of livestock. We have already seen, because of the drought, increasing deaths of livestock. People are starting to lose their camels and their goats to a lack of water or a lack of food for these animals,” McDonough said.

“Or people are selling their livestock because they know they won’t be able to provide them with the food and water that they need to keep their livestock healthy and they’re not getting competitive prices for that. Its a very negative coping strategy, it means that people are depleting their livestock herds, which is like their bank accounts, in order to get by now in the short term.”

The mass animal deaths, from hunger and thirst as well as disease, have caused herders to lose "just about everything," said the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation representative in Somalia, Richard Trenchard.

"The sad reality of the drought this severe, this long, this enduring, is we're starting to see these massive livestock deaths, livestock losses. 50, 60, 70 percent of livestock herds are dying, which is an enormous hit for these pastoral families," Trenchard said.


TRTWorld and agencies