(ERGO) – When floods washed away the crops on the 20-hectare farm he co-owns with his brother and father in Hawadley village in Balad district, Somalia’s Middle Shabelle region, Abdi Hassey began ferrying passengers between waterlogged villages using his father’s old fishing boat.
Business was brisk because people had no alternative means of transport. With the money he made, Abdi was able to buy a new boat in June, and then another one in August for his brother.
“Now we have a boat each,” said Abdi proudly. The three men between them are making around $250 a week from their three boats, operating five days a week.
They charge seven to eight dollars per passenger, more than the fare charged by road vehicles, which Abdi says is due to the higher fuel consumption.
“From Jowhar by boat to Hawadley village, we use 40 litres of fuel. We also take passengers who want to go to Mogadishu up to Balad town, where they take a bus onwards to the city,” said Abdi.
For Saddam Hassan Hussein, another disappointed farmer, being hired to operate a boat owned by another local businessman in August gave him relief from depending on relatives. Floods in July washed away all the beans, maize, sesame, tomatoes, pumpkin and rice he had planted on his 20-hectare farm. He had invested $1,356 in planting.
“Hardship has forced me to work for a man my age. I was an independent man working on my own farm just yesterday,” he said. He earns $10 a trip and on busy days can do three boat trips, providing enough to support his family of eight children.
Some farmers in Middle Shabelle region have not harvested anything all year due to repetitive river floods.
At the moment, there are more than 30 boats operating on the river on any one day. The boats ply the river, not the flooded roads, taking them five hours to ply between the 20 villages. They only run in the day due to the risks at night, as Saddam explained.
“A tree in the river might hit the boat at night as you can’t see what is in the water. Other times you might experience a technical failure. During the day you can see everything but at night it is dangerous!”
As well as farmers, some previously working in road transport have also found jobs on the river. Mohamed Ahmed Aweys, a father of three living in Jowhar, carries passenger goods from the market to the river and loads the boats.
“I make five dollars a day, but before I was making $10 to $20 a day. We used to earn well before, that was better for us,” he said, referring to his work as a porter at bus stops.
However, the higher cost of transport by boats has directly affected local food prices.
Hussein Jimale Barrow, a food store owner in Hawadley, said the road vehicles that transported food from Mogadishu to Balad charged $1.2 per 50 kg, whereas boats are charging $2.5 for the same load. This has forced the local businessmen to raise their prices to local consumers.
“I used to sell one kilogram of sugar at 15,000 Somali shillings ($0.5), but now I’m selling it for 22,000 ($0.8). Likewise, a kilogram of rice was 12,000 Somali shillings ($0.4), but now it’s 22,000 Somali shillings,” Hussein told Radio Ergo.