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EXCLUSIVE: Somalia at risk of famine: WFP launches emergency response to save lives

Hassan Istiila
Thursday February 16, 2023

WFP Somalia Representative and Country Director El-Khidir Daloum/ Hassan Istilla/ HOL

Mogadishu (HOL) - The UN World Food Programme, with support from the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief) and the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), has launched a project to provide life-saving food assistance to 130,000 people in three districts in Somalia.

The project will offer life-saving emergency food assistance to 97,585 people affected by drought in Galkayo and Kismayo, and humanitarian cash assistance to 34,964 people affected by drought in the Burhakaba district.

The project launch ceremony was held in Mogadishu on Thursday.

In an exclusive interview with HOL, El-Khidir Daloum, the WFP Somalia Representative and Country Director, stated that 6.4 million people are currently facing acute food insecurity from January to March 2023. Among them, 300,000 are in a catastrophic situation, while around 1.8 million under-five children are facing malnutrition.

"What you have seen in the launch event was part of a bigger response to this crisis," he added.

Due to the driest conditions in 40 years following three consecutive failed rainy seasons, a total of 7.1 million people now face acute food insecurity.

The WFP responded and covered 4.7 million people with food assistance in the form of in-kind and cash assistance as of December last year. In addition, WFP provided nutrition assistance to 545,000 people, divided into two categories: nutrition treatment and prevention.

"The World Food Programme, the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre, the United Kingdom, and partners Somali Disaster Management Agency and OCHA have decided to respond to the 6.4 million Somalis facing acute food insecurity," Daloum stated.

The project will run from January to the end of March or the beginning of April 2023.

Last September, the UN food insecurity analysis found "concrete indications" that famine would occur in south-central Somalia's Baidoa and Burhakaba districts between October and December unless aid efforts were significantly stepped up. Despite joint efforts by the Somali government and international agencies, the two districts are still at risk.

When asked why the Burhakaba district was only chosen, Daloum explained that WFP, KSrelief, and FCDO made the decision together. He also explained that the WFP responds to areas that it can reach, including hard-to-reach areas and those categorized in IPC 5, while other donors' assistance will cover Baidoa and other areas.

Daloum explained that the agencies take two approaches regarding cash assistance for drought victims. First, everyone is registered in a biometric system called SCOPE, which enables identity verification.

The second approach is through mobile money, as the program has a partnership with telecommunication companies. The WFP sends money to people's mobile phones every month, and they can buy from any shop anywhere.

"We have approximately 1,300 retailers throughout Somalia, and we do a market analysis before paying the cash assistance," he added. "The commodities are referred to as the minimum expenditure basket, which is calculated in terms of the number of calories required for the household. We support a household on average, as we assume an average of six in Somalia. The market analysis dictates how much the person receives."

According to El-Khidir Daloum, the WFP conducts market analysis to determine the cost of commodities in different locations. The cost of living in Mogadishu differs from that in other locations such as Hudur, Qansah Dhere, Kismayo, Mahas, Bulaburde, or Galkacyo.

This market analysis dictates the monthly allowance received by the people they serve. The analysis is reviewed by a coordinating body called the cash working group, which ensures consistency between different agencies supporting the same location.

Daloum highlights that when drought-affected people do not receive help, they face significant problems.

"The first thing households do when they do not receive aid is to reduce meals. For example, if they used to eat three meals a day, they would now eat one or two. If they used to eat two meals daily, they would only eat one. Secondly, most households borrow from relatives and become indebted before selling their assets, such as goats, cows, camels, sheep, or physical assets. The third strategy is to borrow in the village, where the lender knows the borrower's capacity to repay from their goods. When households try to sell their assets, the terms of threat between food and assets become favourable to food rather than their assets, leading to a lower price. After depleting their assets, they try to migrate to the nearest city, leading to serious consequences for their ability to absorb shocks and stay where they are."

El-Khidir Daloum, WFP Somalia Representative and Country Director, emphasizes that the famine has been postponed for various reasons. Higher investments in resilience and livelihood in the three years before 2022, compared to the three years before 2011, have helped.

In December last year, WFP supported 4.7 million people, and the number has since increased to 2.5 million in April, 3.5 million in June, and 4.7 million in December. Daloum believes that these efforts have significantly helped to postpone the famine.

However, the upcoming rainy season's forecast is not great, and the projection for January to March is that 6.4 million people will face acute food insecurity. The number of people supported by WFP assistance depends on other factors, such as the next rainy season and the availability of funds to provide consistent support.

The WFP is concerned about all Somalis facing acute food insecurity due to drought, lack of rain, and conflict, regardless of location. They operate based on the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality, integrity, and humanity and hope Somalia will achieve lasting peace so that they can explore all their resources and no longer require in-kind or cash assistance from the WFP program. The WFP will continue to assist the Somali people without compromising humanitarian principles as long as partners cooperate with Somali institutions or international institutions.

Daloum reiterated that the WFP assists hosting countries and their people in achieving sustainable development and zero hunger. The WFP's programs also align with the host government's national agenda and priorities. Somalia's national development plan is number nine. The WFP's mandate is divided into two parts: saving and changing lives.

El-Khidir Daloum explained the World Food Programme's strategic plan for Somalia, developed from January 2022 to December 2025, with five strategic outcomes aligned to National Development Plan nine:

The first outcome focuses on crisis response, which involves providing life-saving support to those most at risk during and after shocks. This includes treatment and prevention of malnutrition for returnees, refugees, and internally displaced persons.

The second outcome is resilience building, with a focus on protecting and developing human capital in rural and urban areas through various initiatives such as nutrition-sensitive safety nets, cash-based home-grown school feeding, and gender-responsive social and behavior change communications.

The third outcome aims to build the resilience of communities and households by promoting food systems that are more productive, inclusive, equitable, environmentally sustainable, and able to provide healthy and nutritious diets to all.

The fourth outcome involves providing capacity strengthening and technical assistance to government entities responsible for various programs, including national gender- and shock-responsive safety net programs, disaster risk reduction and mitigation, school feeding, and food security needs assessment and response.

Lastly, the fifth outcome focuses on providing mandated and on-demand services to the humanitarian community in Somalia through the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service, the WFP-led logistics cluster, and WFP's bilateral service provision to help reach people at risk and respond to needs and emergencies.


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