High food prices hurting livelihoods in Afmadow

NAIROBI, 14 December 2010 (IRIN) - Prices of basic commodities have risen sharply as a severe drought worsens in and around Afmadow, 620km south of the Somali capital Mogadishu, leading to the displacement of hundreds of people.

In the past three weeks, at least seven small towns and villages near Afmadow have been abandoned due to drought and food shortages, a local aid worker, who requested anonymity, told IRIN on 14 December.

He said an estimated 2,000 families (12,000 people) were affected.

Food prices in the area have risen dramatically in the past two months. "Maize [the staple food] has gone up from 350,000 Somali shillings [US$12] for a 50kg bag two months ago to 800,000 shillings [$25] today," he said.

A kilogramme of sugar, which was 28,000 shillings (70 US cents) two months ago, now retails for 35,000 shillings (just over $1), the aid worker said, adding that 1kg of flour was now 32,000 shillings, up 7,000 from two months ago.

"A large number of the population here depends on money from relatives in America or Europe but even that is getting less because people are sending less than they used to," the aid worker said. "It is a very grim situation we find ourselves in."

Like most of southern Somalia, Afmadow town - in the Juba region - is now under the control of the Islamist Al-Shabab, which opposes the Transitional Federal Government (TFG).

Aid agencies have left the area due to insecurity, the aid worker said.