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Food Kitchens in Mogadishu

Children in Hamar weyne

This article was prepared by the ENN from information and resources available online. We gratefully acknowledge SAACID for allowing us to share their experiences in Field Exchange, and thanks to Christy Sprinkle, SAACID, for enabling this.

This article shares the positive experiences and challenges of wet food programming in the urban setting of Mogadishu, Somalia, where there is ongoing and escalating insecurity and little alternative to meet the needs of a population in acute need.

Mogadishu, the historical capital of Somalia, has been at the heart of instability in the country for 19 years. As a result of conflict between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and local factions, the humanitarian situation in central and southern Somalia continued to deteriorate in 2007. TFG attempts during 2007 to crush opposition led to an estimated 1.5 million people being displaced, with 500,000 in critical need of lifesaving assistance.

Kitchen pots in Shibis

SAACID (say-eed - Somali, meaning 'to help') is an indigenous Somali, not-for-profit, non-governmental organisation (NGO) founded and directed by Somali women. It focuses on practical measures to enhance the life-options of women, children and the poor. Back in 1992-3 at the onset of Somalia's political implosion, SAACID operated 75 food kitchens in partnership with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). By 2007, the levels of suffering and desperation were again reaching the 1991-3 levels. The World Food Programme (WFP) could no longer safely deliver general dry food distributions to recipients in Mogadishu - deliveries were being looted, riots were occurring with increasing frequency, and people were being killed as a result. In response, SAACID requested and received support to establish 10 wet food feeding centres throughout Mogadishu from a number of international NGOs, United Nations (UN) agencies and donor governments. These included Oxfam Novib, Danish Refugee Council (DRC), World Food Programme, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA), the Dutch Government, The Norwegian Government and the Swedish Government, as well as from all the communities residing within war-torn Mogadishu.

Rights-based approach

SAACID's operational philosophy is driven by a rights-based approach. For the food kitchen initiative, this was manifested by providing local Mogadishu communities with as much empowerment and ownership as possible. To this end, SAACID conducted a 2-day mobilisation workshop for 120 key community leaders from all communities residing within the city. The workshop resulted in local Mogadishu communities taking full ownership of the initiative, and identifying and agreeing upon 10 sites within the 16 districts of the city. While it was preferred to have 16 kitchens in the city (one for each district of the city), the community agreed that given the financial constraints at the time, they would equitably divide the 10 sites amongst themselves. Four large districts took one kitchen each and the remaining 12 districts split one kitchen between two districts. Food kitchens were then established at these sites following agreement on operating procedures, local hiring and local input as to how the sites would be operated. Critically, the community agreed with the core principle of the programme - free life-saving meals for anyone needing such a meal - without prejudice to clan, gender or age.


Distributing hot meals in Hamar jajab

The kitchens provide one cooked meal per day to those wanting a meal. The meal recipe consists of 375g of cooked maize powder, 250g of pulses, 0.025ml of vegetable oil, 0.06g of CSB, and a 'soup', consisting of half a lime, garlic, Somali spices, tomato, l onion, salt, Kamsar Caleen1, Xawaash2 and one banana. The recipe is consistent with local cultural tastes. The meal represents a calorie count of approximately 2,000 kcals with lipids at 15.9% and protein at 13.7%. The meal has no meat due to cost and because if the meal is too 'good', then those in lesser need will also come to the kitchens and possibly create unnecessary conflict. The meal is therefore very basic but at the same time 'lifesaving'.

The first three kitchens were established in late November 2007 with the remaining seven following soon after. With a slight pause to celebrate the end of Ramadan, the sites were selected - mainly in derelict old compounds that had a large space with a usable perimeter wall. The varying start dates to become operational reflected the different capacities between districts to mobilise and begin operations. Two districts - Deynile and Hamar-weyne/Shingani - did not begin operations at all during the first week; Deynile because of security concerns about the proposed site and Hamarweyne/ Shingani due to local political factors. There were also significant ongoing local political/ clan problems between Hawl-wadag and Hodan that needed work to reconcile the various factions. A major concern to all donors and partners was the security of the sites and whether SAACID had the capacity to pacify and ameliorate negative perceptions of both the TFG/Ethiopians and military opposition cells toward wet food feeding. Both before and during the first week of operations, SAACID spent a lot of time ensuring that all political and military elements were kept abreast of operational developments and continued to address all the concerns of all parties. There were no direct security incidents against any of the food kitchens in the first week of operations.

There was agreement that each site would deliver a maximum of 5,000 meals at each site every day - 50,000 meals per day. The initiative was initially funded for 16 weeks. A second phase of 6 months was then agreed to, and collectively funded until the end of October 2008 by DRC, WFP, ECHO, UN-OCHA, Oxfam Novib, USAID, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian governments, the $10 Club, and individual donors. In the second phase the programme was expanded to 16 sites - each delivering 5,000 meals per day (a total of 80,000 meals per day). Since then, a third phase of 6 months was successfully completed and a fourth 6-month phase has just been completed (May-October 2009).

Early on, SAACID found that its planning and design did not cater for enough on-site security, which it had to increase from 5 to 7 individuals per site, not enough cooks (again increased from 5 to 7 per site) and no capacity to de-husk the corn. Furthermore, community leaders wanted SAACID to recognise the significant difficulties they faced on their side by only having 10 sites and requested donors and partners to review seriously the current model of 10 sites and increase that capacity to 16 sites.

Critical programme challenges

SAACID produced weekly situation reports on the programme reporting on key variables, including security and the findings of its monitoring programme. A number of critical issues began to emerge in late 2007 and during 2008.

The programme was widely publicised through radio and other media and therefore generated a lot of discussion and interest. As a result, demand soon came to exceed supply, with some sites reporting that they were exceeding 5000 meals per day by December 2007. SAACID were therefore becoming acutely aware of the need for more kitchens and the fact that there were geographical gaps for wet feeding in Mogadishu. Furthermore, beneficiaries were travelling from further away to come to kitchens (average distance was 500 metres in December 2007 but had increased to over 1000 metres by the end of 2008). As demand continued to outstrip supply, people were receiving smaller quantities of food per meal and complaints were increasingly being heard. Furthermore, security incidents, road blocks and TFG/Ethiopian lockdowns of large areas for search-and-seizure in the city meant that there were frequent spikes in attendance at kitchens. By March 2008, reports were indicating huge pressures from communities across the city to open more sites and there was concern that current frustration would turn to violence. People had to walk greater distances to attend the sites and capacity was being exceeded. Community leaders in areas of the city without kitchens were stating that they would no longer be able to support the kitchen programme in any part of the city if more kitchens were not established. Furthermore, SAACID were in the throes of a funding bottleneck with no signs of any financial contract for continuation of the programme. There was talk of having to close the programme within a matter of days if further funding could not be secured urgently.

Reports in May 2008 pointed out that people were now walking on average over 1km to kitchens and that continued increases in child attendance across all sites was an indication of food resource competition. There was also an influx of internally displaced people (IDP) returnees to Mogadishu from the Afgoye corridor with many seeking food assistance at the kitchens further increasing demand. Many of the IDPs were women and children having split up from male household members who remained in the camps to receive dry food rations. By mid 2008, SAACID and the DRC had reached an agreement to expand the number of sites from 10 to 16. However, by the end of July 2008 these 16 sites were again struggling with demand and on average serving 73,000 meals per day. While the new sites helped to reduce the distances that people were travelling (on average 964 metres in July 2008), there were still problems of access. July reports indicated small pockets in parts of the city where people did not feel safe enough to travel to a kitchen site and a growing minority of middle class Somalis living in the city, in desperate need of food but too ashamed to line up at a site.

The July 2008 report also highlighted a rare security incident at a kitchen site (Heliwaa) involving looting by freelance clan-based militiamen. Community leaders indicated that the site is situated in 'no man's land' - between TFG/Ethiopian and opposition factions. Community leaders and district officials worked together to increase general community support and protection at the site. When asked about transferring the site to a safer place, they indicated that it was possible, but that those most in need (and some of the most desperate in the city) resided in the area where the site was currently situated. The leaders expressed deep concern about the population in the area if the site was moved, indicating that already at least 80% of the families in the district were relying on the food kitchen to provide their one meal per day. The leaders also indicated the need for further kitchens within Heliwaa, as many families were in dire need, but could not move freely to the existing site.

Situation reports in the last quarter of 2008 indicated very significant devolution of the security context in the city, with a noticeable increase in roadblocks manned by a combination of Ethiopian trained fighters, TFG militias and freelance militias. Furthermore, African Union troop shelling of civilian areas has caused further displacement, while command and control had significantly deteriorated so that looting and extortion had broadened and deepened.

Queing for food in Bondhere

In January 2009, the Ethiopian military withdrew from their occupation of Somalia. A new Western and UN backed Islamic theocracy was installed, in an attempt to mitigate Islamic extremism. However, this attempt at governance floundered as well, with opposition (including more and more Islamic jihadists) increasing their military opposition to the Western and UN backed government. Throughout 2009, the number of freelance militia increased throughout the city. By May 2009, there were reports of as many as 40,000 active militia in the city. The result was further displacement and a continuing degradation of livelihoods of poor Somalis. The ultimate impact of the ongoing conflict (and drought) was that the 80,000 official 2,000 kcal daily meals were being shared by approximately 327,000 people daily. Put another way, 3 standardised scoops of gruel were being shared with approximately 4.5 people. Access had also suffered as people had to travel greater distances with considerable security risk. In May 2009 the average distance travelled to a kitchen was 1.35 km and situation reports were highlighting visual signs of more people becoming malnourished in the city. There were also reports of more returnees, not just from the Afgoye corridor but also other sites in Middle Shabelle, Bay, Hiran and Galgadud. All of this was impacting on meal availability. However, although major conflicts broke out between TFG and Islamic opposition groups, there was no targeting or looting of the wet food sites. However, the conflict did disrupt programmes by making it difficult for recipients and staff to get to the kitchens and to replenish stocks at each site.

On June 20th 2009, all sites were suspended due to systematic insecurity and because SAACID's main administrative compound was occupied by opposition militiamen. The programme was restarted on the 29th of July 2009. At the time of writing, 15 of the 16 sites are operational, with only the Abdul-aziz site remaining suspended due to the large concentration of foreign fighters occupying the district and with SAACID having significant difficulty communicating with them.

As at 18 October 2009, the programme was continuing into its 99th week, having served some 35,998,913 hot meals successfully to the city's hungry population.

With the security context in Mogadishu continuing to deteriorate, donors and partners have agreed in principle to extend the programme for a fifth 1-year phase - which would mean that the programme would be funded through to November 2010.


The SAACID food kitchen programme was developed and designed to cater for the vacuum created by the breakdown in WFP food distribution due to insecurity. The programme was expected to run for the single first phase, or possibly a second 6-month phase - but no more. In reality, the security context has continued to decline throughout the implementation of each of four phases, with no possibility of the wet food programme transitioning back to dry food distributions.

Dishing up food in Dharkeynley

A long list of threats - worsening security, increasing inflation due to the printing of fake money by rogue business elements, a deepening drought that has cut rural commodities flowing into the Mogadishu markets, an international financial crisis, and systemic attacks on public markets with mortars, rockets and artillery by the Ethiopian military, AMISOM and the TFG as a retaliatory measure for opposition attacks on TFG coalition positions - have only increased food dependency on the wet food kitchens by the most vulnerable in the city. As markets have been systemically attacked, and the economy has flat-lined, alternative livelihoods have also dried up. More and more families have come to rely exclusively on the wet food kitchen network. As things have worked out, the food kitchens have probably provided the safety net that has prevented a major famine from occurring.

The operational deployment of the food kitchen network is expensive compared to dry food distributions. However they work because of strong community ownership, the transparency in the equality of resource distribution in each of Mogadishu's 16 districts, and the clans represented in each district, the assured consistency and reliability of delivery to recipients, the relatively small amounts of food held on site at any of the 16 sites at any one time and the fact that the food is cooked - limiting the value of looting by potential factional or freelance militias, or even the public, who are desperate for food. While the programme initiative has engendered and secured very loyal support from donors and partners, the added cost of cooking food for so many on a daily basis utilises precious and relatively scarce funding. One of the keys to enduring donor support has been the ability of the programme to deliver to a concentrated population cluster in a high profile city. The key defining feature for initial and ongoing support for the wet food initiative is the paucity of viable alternatives for feeding the vulnerable and food insecure in Mogadishu City.

Officially, SAACID provides 80,000 meals of 2000 kcals every day. However, as alternative livelihoods have evaporated more and more families have come to depend on the wet food kitchens. SAACID utilises a number of daily tracking questions to monitor the programme and provide a basis for quality assurance to donors and partners. One of these questions is "how many extra people are eating this meal"? Based on more than 2.9 million responses to the question it appears that the average number of people accessing one 2,000 calorie meal is 4.54 people - or more than 321,320 people per day.

The limits of donor support for this programme have probably been reached. What is required is parallel funding to provide nutritional support (established international standards are for under 5s only), and sustained emergency livelihood support, so as to provide cash injections that would provide funds for alternative food sources - and would have the concomitant effect of kick starting the local economy. With funds from Oxfam Novib, SAACID has just begun the development of a 16-site Community Therapeutic Care (CTC) network in the city that provides both outpatient therapeutic programming (OTP) and supplementary feeding programme (SFP) service delivery. To date, no one has stepped up to provide any parallel funding for emergency cash for work livelihood programming, though SAACID continues to try and source funds for such initiatives.

The real solution to this emergency is to change political policy thereby creating a stable security context. However, such aspirations and how this might come about is the subject of another article.

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Show footnotes

1Somali - unknown translation

2Somali - unknown translation

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ENN (). Food Kitchens in Mogadishu. Field Exchange 37, November 2009. p2.



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