COVID-19: The economic impact on the population in Somalia

In the wake of the global pandemic of Coronavirus or COVID-19 that has infected over 1.5 million people and killed over 100,000 people worldwide to date, Somalia takes measures to prevent the contagious disease from spreading into the conflict-affected nation whose healthcare infrastructure systems are not as strong as those in developed countries.

Somalia has confirmed 21 cases of the virus to date, with one patient having died from the illness (Somali Ministry of Health, 2020). It has introduced preventive measures to stop the spread of the disease by closing educational institutions, banning international and local flights and social gathering in public places and setting isolation centres for people beset by the virus.

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a new virus. The disease causes respiratory illness (like the flu) with symptoms such as a cough, fever, and in more severe cases, difficulty breathing. It spreads primarily through contact with an infected person when they cough or sneeze. It also spreads when a person touches a surface or object that has the virus on it, then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth (WHO, 2020).

The United Nations and other national and international bodies have warned that the pandemic could have a devastating impact on the developing countries in Africa and Asia due to many factors that would facilitate its spread and make difficult its containment.

Vulnerable Countries feared to be hard hit by the pandemic include those which are affected by active conflicts and whose healthcare systems are weakened. Somalia is one of these countries and could be crippled if the Coronavirus breaks out in the country. The consequence could be so devastating that many lives may be lost and the economic impact could put millions of people at risk of destitution, food insecurity and malnutrition.

Socio-economic constraints

Two-third of the Somali population are pastoralists and one-third, agro-pastoralists or agrarian society whose economic productions depend on animal and agricultural productions. A small number of the Somali population are engaged in trade activities. The economic productions of these groups, however, are not adequate and sufficient for the nation in the event of pandemics like the Coronavirus and pose serious threats economically.

As Somalia is an arid and semi-arid country and agricultural productions are concentrated only on a few fertile regions, staple food productions can serve only a small number of the population in a given period. The country is heavily dependent on imports of manufactured goods and commodities to feed its estimated 15 million people.

In recent years, climate change adversities have had effects on food and animal productions in Somalia due to recurrent droughts, floods and, more recently locust invasions. People lost thousands of livestock or abandoned farming practices which weakened their resilience and self-sufficiency.
Many families are nomadic and wander about in search of water and pasture for their animals. The effects of the 2017 drought that hit regions in Somalia could still be felt as thousands of nomadic people were displaced and ended up in IDP camps or live with host communities in urban settlements.

These conditions of the Somali population are compounded by the protracted hostilities that impede humanitarian efforts and Somali government influence in areas where the vulnerable communities are inhibiting. Consequently, destitution, food insecurity and malnutrition have persistently affected the Somali population resulting in the deaths of many Somali citizens.

The economic impact of Coronavirus

Somalia’s populations have been weakened economically by years of conflict and recurrent natural disasters that devastated economic and social infrastructures. These infrastructures include the healthcare systems, which is playing a leading role on the frontline in the fight against the fatal virus, Corona globally. The health worker to population ratio of Somalia is said to be two doctors (2) per 100,000 patients, which is much higher than the standard set by the World Health Organization (WHO). The few healthcare facilities and limited health workers that are available and operational will then be overwhelmed by the sheer number of patients beset by the virus in case of an outbreak.

Somali people are already weak from years of conflict, drought, floods, and diseases and are not resilient to a pandemic like the Coronavirus.

The Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in Somalia are now estimated to be 2.6 million people across the country. Many of them have fled their original places and live in dire situations in camps. Economically, they cannot afford to cover their basic needs and depend on aid provided by the humanitarian and development actors in Somalia. Not only are the IDPs economically weak but also the urban poor who have their own economic problems and invisibly suffer in urban life.

The Somali Federal Government (FGS) is not strong enough to carry out social protection activities to provide the essential social services of its citizens.

Somali has large Diaspora communities abroad which contribute to the economic well-being and purchasing power of citizens home. Somali economic growth is driven by private consumption that is mainly financed by remittance in addition to agricultural and animal productions.

The pandemic, COVID-19, has impacted all these economic activities negatively as globalization and interconnectedness plays a major role in world economic boom or setbacks.

Like it was said in previous paragraphs, Somalia depends more on imports of manufactured goods and commodities than its own productions, and lockdowns and restrictions imposed on trading nations in the world due to Coronavirus have a direct impact on the economic performance of Somalia. Interregional supplies of goods and commodities inside Somalia will also add to the problem as the Somali government may choose to take steps to restrict cross-regional business activities in order to prevent the spread of the virus, which exacerbates the already dire situations of communities in the regions and rural areas.

This is already felt in changes in food prices of markets in Somalia where there are increases in the prices of the essential food commodities. Because Somalia must import staple food items from countries such as China and India, the supply chains have been affected by the imposition of restrictions on travel and transport movement by the foreign countries and Somalia itself.

Consequently, many citizens in Somalia are now at risk of food insecurity and malnutrition, and cannot meet the basic needs. Somalia has 73 percent poverty rate and is classified as one of the poorest countries in the world.

Coronavirus will undoubtedly have a devastating economic impact on the Somali population that leads to disruptions of the economy and results in destitution, food crises, and malnourishment in addition to the fatal health consequences. Poverty and destitution have already taken a toll on the population’s immunity to outbreaks and many people live below the poverty line, less than 1.90 USD a day.

In preventing the economic adversity of the Coronavirus, the Somali Federal Government should develop strategies and schemes to stop the economic losses that its population could face in the event of Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Not only many people will be affected by the health consequences of the virus but also by other forms of complications caused by Corona-induced repercussions such as food shortages, disrupted livelihoods and water-borne diseases.

Coronavirus is a serious threat to the Somali population and should be prevented from Somalia before it is too late to contain it!

Mohamed Yarow, B.A. in Development Studies
B.A. in Public Administration
College Diplomas in Business Studies

myerow@gmail.com