Battling the effects of drought on Somali communities- Q&A with UNICEF Nutrition Specialist
HARGEISA, Somaliland, 1 November 2011 – Horn of Africa governments, the United Nations and aid agencies have all been battling one of the worst droughts in decades in the region. Zivai Mururi, nutrition specialist for UNICEF based in Somaliland, gives MIKE PFLANZ an update on the situation.
PFLANZ: We have heard a lot about how Somalia has been struggling with a severe drought during 2011. Can you give us a sense of why the situation became difficult in the first six months of this year, with focus on Somaliland?
MURIRA: Chief among many reasons were the failed Deyr season rains, supposed to be between October and December last year, which were below normal in most areas. There was then the prolonged Jilaal dry season between January and March, and the late Gu rains, which were due between April and June. Together, this all created severe drought conditions, whose impacts were most pronounced amongst the pastoral populations.
The drought had a severe impact on livestock: most pastoralists experienced losses not only due to the drought but also due to animal diseases. Because of this, there was low production of camel milk, meaning that many people had to buy food instead. At the same time, they had less money because they had fewer animals and milk to sell. There was also an acute water crisis, making many people reliant on pricey water trucking, which depleted the limited resources they had. Traditional support systems including food gifts, cash and loans that serve as a safety net for most families were already overstretched due to successive droughts. Through a combination of these factors, many families, particularly the poorest, were pushed to the edge.
PFLANZ: What emergency measures did UNICEF employ to try to ease the effects of the drought, especially on children?
MURIRA: We expanded our support for treatment of severe acute malnutrition through outpatient therapeutic feeding programmes, in particular in pastoral areas. That helped to make sure that the much-needed treatment services reached the children most in need. UNICEF also increased its support for projects that made it easier for people to find water during the acute water crisis at the beginning of the year Working with local partners, we helped with water-trucking as a stop gap measure, and rehabilitated strategic boreholes. To keep children protected from preventable diseases, UNICEF supported accelerated child survival campaigns through “Child Health Days” to ensure coverage of child health services.
PFLANZ: What is the situation today, at the end of October?
MURIRA: Admissions in treatment programmes remain relatively high compared to the beginning of the year. Overall, admissions rose up to July, then started to level off. Information from monitoring reports suggest a continued dire situation for pastoral populations, particularly those in the Guban, West Golis, Nugal Valley and Sool Plateau areas, as households there have experienced severe livestock losses and will take longer to recover.
For these families without adequate livelihood support, recovery from the drought is likely to be slower compared to others. In the western agro-pastoral parts of Somaliland, the recent Gu rains were relatively good and good harvests are expected. Pasture for animals has also improved and hopefully the situation will show marked improvement in the next assessments, to be conducted in the next couple of months. But then again, the Deyr rains are anticipated to be below normal, and this could have a negative impact on quick recovery from the drought.