In a busy store in central Dullow, a border town in Jubaland, southwest Somalia, Farhan Ali Nur is faced by a customer who can't believe the price of dried milk. The customer has turned to the manager for confirmation. Nur assents.
All of his prices have risen since the Ukraine war began, he says – the biggest increase he's seen in his 12 years in the job. A 3-litre carton of cooking oil has gone from $6 to $8.50; 25kg of flour was $17, now it's $19. "The whole world is in crisis. The world is connected," he said. "People do complain but when they can't find cheaper elsewhere they pay for it."
His supplies come from Mogadishu, nearly 500km away, usually by road through a dangerous route that involves drivers paying money to al-Qaeda-aligned Islamic militant group Al-Shabaab, who control territory along the way. But the price hikes are exacerbating a newer problem.
Somalia is affected by a devastating drought which has put 6 million people in crisis. Three rains have failed, with another shortly expected to fail too. The United Nations has warned that hundreds of thousands of children could die in the coming months if they do not receive food assistance. About 81,000 people are already thought to be experiencing famine.
Nur – who gathers donations from locals and money from the Somali diaspora to buy food for people in need – said he had lost business, particularly from pastoralists whose livestock had died from thirst and hunger. “The drought has affected us a lot because people who own animals used to come to town and sell animals, then buy their foodstuffs here and buy things, now they aren’t buying things so that business is down,” he said.
Underscoring everything is a fuel crisis linked to the Ukraine war – which has been felt across Africa. Rising fuel prices raise the price of all foodstuffs. "Once fuel goes up, everything goes up," said an aid agency worker employed by Trócaire.
Abdiweli Dirie Osman, a salesman who works at a Jubba Petroleum and Supply Oil Company petrol station in Dullow, said prices had almost doubled since the start of the year, going from 80c to $1.50 for a litre.
The fuel is also trucked from capital city Mogadishu, arriving there through ships which he said had also raised their prices.
“My customers are complaining a lot, but they need it,” Osman said. “Everyone is complaining so much. There’s a bit of a reduction in people buying. We don’t know what the future holds.”
A press release issued by multiple UN agencies last week said there had been “a rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation” in the country.
“With the below average rainfall outlook, inadequate funding, and globally disrupted supply chains and spikes in commodity prices due to the conflict in Ukraine, Somalia is facing a perfect storm that could very quickly lead to famine,” it read.
A 2011 famine in Somalia, which resulted in the deaths of about 250,000 people, was exacerbated by the then-global food crisis, which caused cereal prices to double, on top of drought and a decrease in food production locally. There was also the issue of US measures – aimed at tackling the financing of terrorism – which meant it was harder for Somalis abroad to send remittances and assistance back home.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's Food Price Index showed the cost of food globally rose an average of 12.6 per cent and the cost of wheat rose nearly 20 per cent. The cost of vegetable oil globally – named by Somali traders as the biggest rise they have seen – had risen by more than 23 per cent in one month. Somalia imports nearly all of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine.