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Revealed- the ugly face of poverty in Somalia

Details of the ugly face of poverty in Somalia reveal a deep-running problem with widespread tentacles touching cutting across the social, economic, and political divide within the country.

Egal M. Abdiwali

A fifth of Somalia households receive remittances and rely on them heavily, with remittances representing 37 percent of household expenditures. This creates poverty risks on two fronts: non-recipient homes are more likely to be poor, while recipient households are at risk of dropping further into poverty should the remittance be reduced or stopped.

Egal M. Abdiwali, TSIM Senior Writer

The actual extent of the spread according to an analysis of the 2017-2018 Somali high-frequency survey (SHFS), has gone a deeper year with just close to 8 out of 10 Somalis you meet are likely to be poor-meaning that they live below the international poverty line of US$1.90 per capita, per day.

This is actually the third highest in the region with just Burundi and South Sudan falling lower with some estimates showing that Somalia is actually the seventh poorest country after Malawi.

The report shows that poverty is widespread across Somalia and is consistently high (averaging 69 percent) among nomadic pastoralists, agro-pastoralists, residents of (Internally Displaced Persons) IDP settlements and residents of Mogadishu. Poverty in urban areas other than Mogadishu is lower in comparison (60 percent).

“About 69 percent of people in Somalia live below the international poverty line, and that 49 percent of Somalis are unable to meet average food requirements, even if they spend all their income on food. Moreover, the analysis reveals that poverty in Somalia is deep, with the daily income of an average poor Somali being only 71 percent of the international poverty line of $1.90.

Such extreme poverty represents great vulnerability among the majority of Somalis to the shocks – drought, displacement, poor health, loss of income or assets – to which they are repeatedly exposed,” researchers building the latest development blueprint, the 9th National Development Plan.

Put simply, it takes very little perturbation in the lives of the very poor to get them to a point where they just do not have the means to survive. Meagre livelihoods fail, food consumption drops still lower, malnutrition rates suddenly rise, and resistance to infectious disease falls and disaster ensues.

There are even higher levels of poverty incidences in Mogadishu, which would normally be expected to reflect the benefit of greater economic opportunity and better access to services found in urban areas. This may be attributed to a large number of IDP settlements within the city.

Regionally, data suggests that poverty incidence is highest in the north of the country – Togdheer, Sanaag, and Bari regions – and in the southwest – Middle Juba, Gedo and Bay regions with estimates showing that the average poverty gap in Somalia is 29 percent, essentially meaning that the average income level of a poor Somali household is 71 percent of the international poverty line.

Rural households (pastoralist and agro-pastoralist) and IDP households appear to be particularly vulnerable in this regard, with a poverty gap assessed at 34 percent, compared to Mogadishu (27 percent) and other urban areas (24 percent).  It means among the rural poor, there is a wide inequality gaps with the average poverty severity index at about 15 percent, pointing to inequalities among the poor. These inequalities are worse in rural areas and IDP settlements.

The analysis points to consumption poverty which arises when household consumption falls below average expenditure on food items across regions. The national incidence of food consumption poverty, that is, people reporting to have not been able to buy food in the past week due to lack of financial resources is 49 percent.

The situation is even dire when talking about food poverty with over 6.2 million people being food poor using the 2014 population estimates. The incidence of food consumption poverty in Mogadishu and nomadic populations is close to the national average.

“Like in other poverty-related statistics, rural agro-pastoralist and IDP settlements experience a significantly higher incidence of food consumption poverty (close to 60 percent in both cases), while the incidence in urban centers other than Mogadishu is considerably lower (40 percent)” captures the report released in January 2020.

The Somali society has strong kinship weakening the correlation between the experience of hunger and whether a household is poor or non-poor, and whether a household is female-headed or male-headed. The kinship allows the poor to access some social support at a time of severe hardships with more incidence of monetary poverty and a stronger correlation of the household experience of hunger found to vary between location (urban, rural, IDP settlement, etc), displacement, remittances and exposure to drought.

From the bottom of the pyramid, a large part of the population is understood to have consumption levels just above the poverty line; they are “nearly poor”, which makes them also vulnerable to recurrent shocks, if not to the extent of the extremely poor.

The Somali society has strong kinship weakening the correlation between the experience of hunger and whether a household is poor or non-poor, and whether a household is female-headed or male-headed. The kinship allows the poor to access some social support at a time of severe hardships with more incidence of monetary poverty and a stronger correlation of the household experience of hunger found to vary between location (urban, rural, IDP settlement, etc), displacement, remittances and exposure to drought.

Egal M. Abdiwali, TSIM Senior Writer

The 2017-2018 Somalia high-frequency survey found that 10 percent of the non-poor population have total daily consumption expenditure within 20 percent of the poverty line of US$1.90 per day per capita. This measure of vulnerability is more prevalent in urban centers than within pastoralist and IDP groups. Quite obviously, non-poor. They are closer to the poverty line and more likely to fall into poverty when exposed to economic and/or other shocks as a result of declining consumption.

Pastoralists seem to be the only livelihood system that has adapted to the rigours and vagaries of arid climates and have well-developed strategies for coping with drought. Similarly, livelihood diversification by agro-pastoralist households increases resilience and the ability to withstand shocks according to the report.

In recent years though, both pastoralist and agro-pastoralist livelihood systems in Somalia have been weakened by repeated drought and ongoing conflict, making both extremely vulnerable. During the 2016-2017 drought, famine was only narrowly averted in the worst-hit areas of the north of the country (predominantly pastoralist) and of the southwest of the country (predominantly agro-pastoralist).

Somalia’s poor only find help against vulnerability and increased resilience in remittances from the Somali diaspora which are one vitally important aspect of resilience for many households.

“It has been assessed that poverty is 5 percentage points lower in houses receiving remittances than in households that do not (62 versus 67 percent). Furthermore, there is a strong correlation between remittances and a range of other measures of poverty, including food consumption poverty” the NDP-09 survey found.

A fifth of Somalia households receive remittances and rely on them heavily, with remittances representing 37 percent of household expenditures. This creates poverty risks on two fronts: non-recipient homes are more likely to be poor, while recipient households are at risk of dropping further into poverty should the remittance be reduced or stopped.

Analyses indicate that recipient households would be unable to significantly replace loss through labor market income. Urban households are more likely to receive remittances, with rural and IDP households much less likely.

Monetary poverty is tightly linked to the lack of household income, whether through unemployment or loss of economic assets. Three groups are most vulnerable to economic exclusion: youth; women; and IDPs. Though not disaggregated in the data, anecdotal information indicates that people with disabilities are also very vulnerable.

There is also a well-documented relationship between poverty, education and literacy. Put simply, the more educated a person is the less likely he or she is to be poor. This understanding was borne out by the results of the 2017-2018 SHFS, which found that poor households have a 6 percent smaller proportion of literate members than non-poor households.

Nationally, Somalia has a 50 percent adult literacy rate, with higher rates found among young people (62 percent within the 16-19-year age group), and in urban populations (79 percent in Mogadishu and 68 percent in other urban centres). IDPs and agro-pastoral populations have lower literacy rates (57 and 45 percent respectively), while nomadic pastoralists have the lowest literacy rate (16 percent). For all population groups, literacy is higher for men than for women.

Counterintuitively perhaps, poor and non-poor households were found to have similar literacy rates, but the portion of literate members is higher in non-poor households (49 percent) than in poor households (43 percent).  This is a key pointer on just how poverty can be addressed.

Apart from economic interventions like ensuring the financial services industry are capable of handling transactions while meeting the standards of anti-money-laundering and anti- terrorist-funding legislation the war against poor educational outcomes must be waged to reduce the negative impact on the level of employable skills.

The current provision of education and health is dominated by private sector providers. This makes access out of reach for the very poor, who either do not receive these services or do so through unsustainable humanitarian services 

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