Coronavirus is threatening not only lives but also livelihoods in Somalia

By   Mowliid Ahmed Hassan

The Ministry of Health of Somalia confirmed the country’s first COVID-19 case on March 16, 2020. In a bid to contain the virus and prevent further spread, the government of Somalia subsequently imposed strict precautionary measures by banning local and international flights, closing educational institutions, prohibiting public gatherings, and unveiling COVID-19 isolation facilities.

However, these bold steps yielded no fruits as the virus made its way to community transmission.

To date [14th May], 1,284 cases have been recorded in which 53 of them are confirmed dead and 135 people recovered. However, the actual number of cases is believed to be more than those confirmed cases by the government due to lack of mass-testing and contact tracing capacity of the country.

The have nots are left with nothing

Even though COVID-19 is causing an unprecedented health crisis in Somalia, it is also having a far-reaching negative impact on the lives of millions of people who were already marooned in between recurrent droughts, famine, floods, and armed conflicts.

After the Somali Government declared the country’s first coronavirus case, the prices of most essential goods in Mogadishu increased exponentially including disinfectants due to panic buying and fear of future shortage of supplies among others.

For instance, a bottle of 500ml hand sanitizer cost 3 US dollars before the corona virus while its price sharply increased more than 500% after the first COVID-19 case in the country, a price that the majority of Somalis who live on less than a dollar a day cannot afford.

The Government has limited capacity to mitigate economic disruptions and unfair pricings created from the pandemic. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry warned traders against increasing prices despite concerned consumers reporting price hikes in the social media [1, 2, 3, 4].

As per the Directorate of National Statistics of Somalia, commodity prices already shown an increase of over 2 per cent at the end of March, 2020 – two weeks after country’s first COVID-19 case declaration. Despite the fact that Federal Government’s tax exemption for food and essential commodities is easing lives for the people, the following primary data collected from 10 randomly selected grocery shops in Mogadishu shows that the prices of some essential items experienced considerable growth due to COVID-19 pandemic.

No. Item Jan 2020 price

(Somali Shillings)

May 2020 price

(Somali Shillings)

% Increase
1. Cooking oil – 20 litre 425,000 625,000 47%
2. Powdered milk – 1 carton 2,175,000 2,750,000 26%
3. Sugar – 1kg 11,250 13,000 16%
4. Sorghum – 1kg 12,500 15,250 22%
5. Camel meat – 1kg 112,500 137,500 22%
6. Rice – 1kg 22,500 25,000 11%
7. Flour – 1 kg 10,000 13,250 33%

 

This is a highly significant increase given the disproportionate number of the population living below the poverty line.

On the other hand, the global lockdown and flight restrictions coupled with the limits on road travel within the country is heavily impacting the relief operations of humanitarian organizations that support displaced people and returnees in Somalia.

The capital city alone, which is the epicenter of the epidemic, hosts more than 400,000 IDPs most of them depend on their daily earnings and hand-outs from humanitarian NGOs.

Decline in remittances

On April 22, the World Bank projected a sharp decline of global remittances by 20% in 2020 as a result of the ongoing pandemic wreaking havoc in many parts of the world. The report also indicated coronavirus will take severe toll on Sub Saharan Africans’ cash in-flows and will experience a decline of 23.1%, estimated over $37 billion in 2020 alone.

Remittances from the diaspora to the Somalis inside the country play a critical role in Horn of Africa country’s economic activities as the industry adds up to the economy more than foreign aid and investment combined. Over two million global Somali the diaspora send about $1.4 billion to families and friends back home annually.

However, the remittances industry in Somalia has already seen a major blow with the COVID-19 global lockdown causing the sector to come to a complete standstill triggering a historic decline of cash inflows and reinforcing fears of a deep economic recession in the country.

Mohamud M. Nur is the branch head of the money transfer agency based in Mogadishu. Mr Nur says remittances operations have been declining as the coronavirus started to spread in Europe and many parts of the world. “Nothing is moving now. Some agencies are currently working two days a week or so as there are few transactions” added Mohamud Nur.

This sharp decline is mainly causing by the reported fall in the wages of the diaspora and loss of jobs in host countries coupled with the lockdown affecting remittance business operations.

What needs to be done?

All these grievous realities on the ground indicate this infectious disease is not only destroying Somalia’s already ailing health system but also threatening livelihoods of millions in Somalia. To save lives, the government with the support of its development partners must step up and fill the gap by launching social safety net programs such cash transfer, food vouchers distribution and subsidising necessary foods for the vulnerable communities, especially low income families, returnees and internally displaced people.

Since the beginning of the outbreak, Somalia received medical supplies and health facilities from the international community including the UN, Jack Ma Foundation and the UAE. Turkish government’s recent ventilators and other medical shipments to Somalia is also believed to be “the breath of life” for the people of Somalia as termed by the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Increased engagement with such countries could help the country compensate government’s inability to provide urgent life-saving health services.

Public health awareness and personal hygiene is key to combating the virus. Awareness raising initiatives currently ongoing in the country must be reinforced. Authorities must leverage country’s vibrant private sector that is already playing a crucial role in nation-wide efforts to contain the virus.

Finally, the Federal Government of Somalia and regional member states should join hands and work together closely more than ever to tackle this pandemic with increased coordination focusing on unity, experience and resources sharing at this critical point in time.

___________________________________

Mowliid Ahmed Hassan is an award-winning blogger based in Mogadishu. He is a graduate of SIMAD University’s School of Management. Mowliid is currently a senior MBA student at Open University Malaysia.

Twitter: @MowliidAHassan  |   Email: mowliid155@gmail.com

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