A combination of drought and high food prices has affected at least 120,000 people in Djibouti, according to a joint rapid assessment of the impact of drought in rural areas by the government of Djibouti, UN agencies and FEWS Net.
"Both rural and urban households are affected by the drought at different levels, with 60,000 directly food-insecure in rural areas," Mario Touchette, the World Food Programme (WFP) representative in Djibouti, told IRIN.
Many Djiboutians have lost livestock and their coping mechanisms have progressively deteriorated due to recurring droughts in the past four to five years.
Touchette said many families who were previously able to have three meals a day had been reduced to one or two a day. Rural families have had to send some members of their families to urban areas as the food security situation becomes critical.
"Now after so many droughts, they don't have so many options to survive; that is why I say that the situation is very critical, especially with the La Niña phenomenon," Touchette said.
Djibouti is considered a least-developed, low-income food-deficit country and was ranked 147th out of 169 countries in the 2010 UN Human Development Index. Djibouti's population is estimated to be 818,000.
Touchette said: “Djibouti is a forgotten country. It gets lost in the numbers game. We are in a neighbourhood where millions are affected, so when you say 120,000, it does not register, but in terms of the percentage of the population it’s higher.”
This drought is worse "in the sense that people did not have the time to recover from previous ones", Touchette said.
In 2002 and 2003, a poor pastoralist family could have between 30 and 40 goats and four to five donkeys; "now, the same family would have only 15-20 goats and two or three donkeys", Touchette said. "So the possibility for them to be self-sufficient is much more difficult now than at any time."
He said even when pastoralists get help from relatives in urban areas, the money does not buy as much as it used to and prices for their livestock or its products, such as milk, have fallen.
Adero Abdulla, a mother of four, moved from the countryside to the small village of Garsadaba, in the Dikhil region in the southwest of the country.
"I moved here because I lost most of my livestock; we had 100 goats, now I have these two you see."
Abdulla has no plans to go back to pastoralism. She said two of her children were going to the local school for the first time. "They are fed twice a day and they learn."
The school benefits from the WFP school-feeding programme. "This is a great help to families like Abdulla's, who have to struggle to even provide one meal a day," a regional official said.
Abdulla and her husband collect firewood to sell in the nearest town, some 45km away. "We make about 2,000 [$11] to 3,000 Djibouti francs [$17]," she said. However, transport costs take a substantial proportion.
Photo: Abdi Hassan/IRIN
|Mario Touchette, WFP's representative in Djibouti|
The regional official said at least 150 families had reached Garsadaba village, of whom about half had received food aid while the rest were sharing meals with residents.
"Most of them send their children to school because of the feeding programme, which keeps many children in school," the official added.
From pastoralism to farming
Mohamed Ali was a nomad but has now turned to farming. Four years ago, his family lost all their livestock and he moved to the small town of As-eyla in search of work.
After doing odd jobs and not making much, Ali joined a WFP food-for-work programme aimed at encouraging self-sufficiency among drought-displaced pastoralists.
"In 2009, they [WFP] gave us seeds and implements to start farming a small plot near the town," Ali said. "I plant twice a year. Now I am waiting to harvest tomatoes, onions, peppers and beetroot. Next season I will plant watermelon and sweet melon."
Ali said life as a farmer was hard but he and his family were better off now than as pastoralists.
"My children are going to school and I can provide for them better than before," he said.
The prolonged drought has forced an increasing number of pastoralists to give up their traditional activities and settle in urban and semi-urban areas.
Mohamed C Hassan, the prefect of Dikhil region, one of worst affected, said some 20,000 families - many from Ethiopia - had arrived in the region in the past five years due to drought.
"They are still coming," Hassan said. "We are being overwhelmed."
He said the government was exploring ways of restocking livestock to allow the families to resume their pastoralist way of life.
"We don't want them to become dependent on aid," he said.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions