About half of Djibouti’s rural population will need emergency food assistance this year due to the combined effects of drought, livestock losses, unfavourable livestock-to-cereal terms of trade and high staple food prices, according to an assessment by the government and UN agencies.
“Most pastoralists had lost a considerable proportion of their livestock [70-80 percent] over the last five years and they suffered from diminished sources of food and income and had exhausted their coping strategies,” Peter Smerdon, spokesperson for the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Nairobi, said.
“The assessment estimated global acute malnutrition among children under five [in rural areas] at 20 percent - above the emergency threshold of 15 percent.”
The assessment followed an alert issued in January by the Famine Early Warning System (FEWS NET). It found that up to 120,000 people - half the rural population - would require humanitarian assistance until December, including food aid and livelihood support, nutrition interventions, water supply, and health assistance. Restocking and asset building programmes are also needed in the medium term.
“The assessment recommended increasing the number of people receiving food assistance,” Smerdon told IRIN on 5 May. “Therefore from April, WFP increased the number of people receiving food through general food distributions from 26,000 to 48,500. Nonetheless, this quick response is neither sufficient nor sustainable and WFP faces a break in its food supplies in August unless new contributions are urgently received.”
FEWS NET said most poor pastoral households were highly food insecure. The food security situation was expected to worsen in the northwest and southeast border pastoral livelihood zones due to insufficient natural resources and inadequate food assistance, in the next six months.
“Poor urban households will likely face extreme food insecurity as the lean period (June-August) approaches,” it noted in a 22 April brief. It attributed the situation to high unemployment, a decline in petty trade activities, above average staple food prices, increased rural-urban migration, and closure of schools. Water shortages in Djibouti city would also worsen in the coming months.
Separately, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said the favourable rains could mitigate the situation. In February, unseasonable rains together with an early onset of the rainy season led to some recovery of pasture, browse and water, especially in pastoral coastal areas, but this could not guarantee the full recovery of the livestock sector, FAO said on 13 April.
Two-thirds of Djibouti's estimated 800,000 people live below the poverty line - 10 percent in extreme poverty - according to Health Ministry statistics. Most of the population lives in urban areas, but 60 percent are unemployed.
The country also hosts 12,900 refugees, an increase of 1,902 on the 2009 numbers due to new arrivals from Eritrea and conflict-ridden south-central Somalia, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs sub-regional office in Nairobi said on 30 April.
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