Starvation fears in north

Extensive drought and high inflation in the northern Togdheer region of the self-declared republic of Somaliland have pushed many families, both nomadic and urban, to the brink of starvation, local officials told IRIN.

“People are suffering not only from the drought but also from a very high level of inflation, putting food out of the reach of many people," Jama Abdillahi, governor of Togdheer region, told IRIN on 30 April.

About 350,000 people live in the Togdheer area.

Abdillahi said its residents have "a foot in the rural areas and a foot in the urban areas. In the past, if the situation in the rural areas was bad, urban dwellers would help, but the problem now is both are suffering and cannot help each other," he said.

He added that those living in the drought-affected areas had lost most, if not all, of their livestock and had now moved to towns.

"Every town in Togdheer is hosting hundreds of families who have left after losing all their animals," said Abdillahi.

He said even camels were dying, "a sure sign that things have reached their worst".

He said reports of people dying were reaching his office. "Two people are reported to have died in Duruqsi [90km northwest of Burao] and a small girl died in Sharaar [60km northeast]," he said.

The governor said Somaliland authorities and the local population had done all they could to help "but we have exhausted our capacity and are no longer able to do much more".

He said the situation was desperate, with inadequate pasture and water for remaining livestock and the consequent destitution of many families.

He said the remaining livestock was so weak "that the rains may kill what is left".

A local journalist in Burao, the regional capital, told IRIN that even if the rains came as expected, it would not do much good to those who had lost everything. "If the rains come now they may do more harm than good," said Sidiq Yusuf.

Inflation worries

Yusuf said the high inflation in the country was making matters worse.

He said there were families who could not eat more than once a day due to the high cost of commodities.

''The prospects for Somalis are among the very bleakest in the world''

Keysi Mahamud, a businessman in Burao, said the price of 50kg of rice had risen to US$40 against $17 a year ago, while a 50kg bag of flour was $39 from $21 in April 2007. He said the price of a 200-litre drum of diesel fuel was $215 from $132 a year ago.

He said prices were forcing many people to buy sometimes 50 to 70 percent less than what they would normally buy while inflation was pushing many families close to starvation, he said.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the high rates of inflation along with an extremely harsh dry season and increasing insecurity in the south were responsible for the rapid deterioration in Somalia's humanitarian situation.

"It is imperative that aid agencies increase their efforts to urgently address the acute suffering of those in need," said governor Abdillahi.

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was extremely concerned about the humanitarian situation.

"Conditions in Somalia have worsened to their lowest point in many years, and the prospects for Somalis are among the very bleakest in the world," it said in a statement on 30 April.

"People are being pushed to the very limits of their endurance," Pascal Hundt, the head of the ICRC’s delegation for Somalia, said.

ah/mw