Somalia’s Quest for Progress Unveiled Through Data

Published: January 31, 2024
Survey team collecting data. 

Photo: Somalia National Bureau of Statistics

When looking at Somalia, there are often glaring gaps in data that obscure understanding of the country, its people, and its needs and also pose challenges in gauging development progress and impact. However, as the country embarks on a critical shift from humanitarian relief to sustainable development, a groundbreaking initiative is illuminating the path forward – the Somali Integrated Household Budget Survey.

Groundbreaking initiative illuminating the path forward

Supported by the World Bank and driven by collaboration between the Somali government and planning ministries in Federal Member States, the survey transcends conventional metrics, exploring crucial aspects of livelihood. Between May and July 2022, the survey reached out to more than 7,200 households across urban, rural, and pastoral nomadic regions. Its scope extended beyond the usual metrics, delving into critical aspects of livelihood, including employment, land ownership, and the usage of information and communication technology.

Community engagement overcomes challenges:

As with any ambitious undertaking, there were challenges. Despite security concerns and encounters with wary households, the survey had an impressive 96% response rate, achieved through using innovative strategies, such as videos explaining the purpose of it, which were aired on local TV stations.

“Security was a constant concern. We had to craft a meticulous security plan, district by district, and engage local elders to ensure safe passage, particularly in rural and nomadic areas.”
Shire Mohamed, Team Supervisor, Banadir

Even with these precautions, the field teams faced unexpected hurdles. Door-to-door interviews, a cornerstone of the survey, occasionally led to encounters with wary households. Shire recounts an incident where local administrators were uncooperative, causing delays. In one extreme instance, the team was briefly detained, underscoring the risks inherent in the pursuit of valuable data.

Community engagement emerged as a pivotal strategy to overcome these challenges. Ayni Mohamed Aden, an enumerator from the Bay region, Southwest State, stressed the significance of ensuring clear understanding within the community, going beyond mere numbers to empower it through information.

To better engage with local communities, the survey team produced a short video explaining why this survey is important for Somalia—this was the video that aired on local television. Enumerators also saved it as a clip on their phones to show the people they were going to interview.

The survey, conducted against the backdrop of a devastating drought, brought to light issues that may have otherwise remained hidden. Mohamed Abdinur, of the Somalia National Bureau of Statistics (SNBS), said some batches of data were flagged due to alarmingly low food consumption levels, leading to investigations that unveiled the harsh reality faced by certain female-headed households.

Empowering decision-makers amidst challenges

The value of the survey goes beyond just the data; it informs decision-making, offering vital information for policymakers, researchers, and practitioners to help them strengthen efforts to address poverty and improve the quality of life for the people of Somalia.

“This survey is our compass. It guides us in the right direction, helping us make decisions that positively impact the lives of our people.”
Sharmarke Farah, Director General of SNBS.

Collaborating closely with the World Bank, the SNBS has analyzed the data and published the Poverty Report for Somalia, 2023 marking a critical milestone in the nation’s data empowerment journey to help better measure poverty. The data collected provides a comprehensive understanding of a range of topics, from income allocation to livelihoods. While Somalia previously struggled to report on a limited number of indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals, the survey sheds light on previously unexplored areas, such as land ownership and food security.

Aphichoke Kotikula, a World Bank poverty economist for Somalia, underscored the survey’s purpose and value to understanding where Somalia stands and charting a course for where the country wants to go. It embodies the commitment to ensuring that no one is left behind in the pursuit of sustainable development.

Data is crucial for the Somali government’s development planning. Mohamed Shire, Director General of the Ministry of Planning, Investment, and Economic Development emphasized that, “As the ministry gears up to formulating the 10th National Development Plan, a robust, data-driven, and transparent framework takes center stage. This not only reinforces trust as a foundational element among stakeholders but also permeates through to development partners, the private sector, and, notably, the public, fostering confidence in the effectiveness and transparency of the developmental processes.”

As Somalia harnesses this wealth of information, it navigates the challenges revealed by the survey and also charts a course toward a brighter future for its people.