- Remi Bumstead
When you hear of Somalia in the media it is often tied with negative connotations: pirates; Al Shabbab; and famine. So when I got the call from Arete to create some videos for their clients World Food Programme and FAO in Somalia, I was very interested to find out what the stories would be like on the ground.
In Somalia, livestock is key. The majority of people living outside of urban areas rely almost solely on livestock to survive, with cattle, goats, and camels being the key players. Not only do the people of Somalia use milk and meat for their personal consumption, the animals are bought and sold as their main form of currency; one of the main exports of Somalia is livestock. Animals are their lifeline.
In 2017, as Somalia was experiencing its second consecutive year of drought, livestock suffered greatly. Without pasture and water, they became weak. Disease and infection spread, and animals stopped producing milk; they became unsaleable, most of them died, and people’s assets with them. People had no money to purchase simple things like salt, to send their children to school, or to buy food. Somalia was on the brink of famine.
While working with FAO I saw first hand how their interventions brought people back from the brink of famine. Working through local organisations, FAO were able to set up initiatives to assist the local community to create water catchments, which funnelled and collect any rain into small dammed lakes. They did this via the ‘cash for work program’ which not only meant there was the creation of the water catchment, but also that people received an income when there was no other work.
I spoke to many people who told me that this was a lifeline, helping them to buy food and ensure their children were healthy. Once the rains did come, the water collected in the catchments. The few animals that survived now had access to water, and the area around it also created pasture for their feed. It was amazing to see these catchments in this arid environment — especially when we got the drone up to take some footage! From all the people I spoke with while with FAO, it was clear to see that by addressing the needs of animals, they were able to address the needs of the people.
I also spent time with the World Food Programme, and it was inspiring to see first hand how their projects have helped people in response to the drought as well. WFP has historically undertaken food distribution in emergency contexts, although in recent years they have started to use voucher schemes or e-cash in order to distribute food. This entails topping up people’s cash cards, just like a pre-paid debit card, with money they can use to buy goods in local markets and shops. As a result, people are benefitting their local economy, and being given more choice in what they can buy.
In Somalia, phone use is high and mobile internet speeds are fast and relatively cheap. Additionally, people with phones tend to share them with family and friends, so even if someone doesn’t own a phone, most people have access to one. In response to this, World Food Programme have created a new platform building on the e-cash cards, developing it into an app and WFP e-shop. This app works in a similar way to many of our online shopping apps, allowing users to search for food products to buy from local shops and then having it delivered to their door.
The e-shop works with the local stores, updating their stock on the app and showing the price of each item, allowing people to search the shops in their area to see what is available and at what price. Each month, World Food Programme adds people’s allowance onto the e-card, which syncs with the e-shop app. From the many people I spoke to about this programme, the recurring theme was how it has made their lives so much easier and allows them to spend their energy on more important things — like preparing for the next drought.
I learnt that Somalia is definitely not just pirates, Al Shabbab, and famine. I heard amazing stories while I was there, and seeing it was great to see how the World Food Programme and FAO projects are directly improving peoples lives.
Remi Bumstead is videographer with 7 years of experience working internationally for a wide range of clients. Some of his clients include UNICEF, FAO, WFP, Restless Development and RedR. He has worked in a number of countries including Uganda, The Gambia, Samoa and India.
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