Covid-19: On-the-record update on challenges facing displaced people in Somalia

Published 21. Apr 2020
Quote from the Norwegian Refugee Council's (NRC) Country Director in Somalia Victor Moses. "For countries like Somalia, Covid-19 isn’t just a health crisis, it’s an economic juggernaut. Even before the outbreak gathers speed, people are feeling the pinch of inflation, widespread job losses, and fear that measures to contain the spread of the virus will have an equal or even more detrimental impact on their survival than the pandemic itself."

"2.6 million people in Somalia have already been displaced by conflict or climatic shocks. How do we ask millions of people to 'stay at home' and 'wash your hands' when they live in congested makeshift shelters and ration meagre water supplies each day? How can we encourage social isolation when people rely on daily wage labour to meet their basic needs?

"Like many countries in this region, Somalia is resilient and resourceful, but it cannot be left to contend with this crisis alone. For the global community to take hold of a global problem, we must find and fund fitting global solutions."

Quote from a displaced mother worried about the spread of the virus.

"We have nowhere to escape the virus and we have no way to control it. There’s a scarcity of water in the camp. Bottled water is expensive. We used to buy it for almost $2 but it is now sold at $3. We have no soap to wash or disinfectant, we have nothing."

Latest updates:

  • As of Monday, April 20, Somalia has confirmed 164 cases of Covid-19 and seven deaths and is braced for the widespread impact of the virus, particularly on more than 2.15 million with insufficient shelter, and 2.7 million without adequate access to water and sanitation facilities.
  • As the Covid-19 pandemic takes hold in Somalia, government agencies, with support from humanitarian and development actors, have made considerable efforts to contain the risk of virus-spread in the country. Border closures, curfews, restrictions on gatherings and quarantine measures have all sought to limit movement while mass messaging by mobile phone, radio, social media and through influential community leaders has focused on handwashing, hygiene and social distancing practices.
  • A recent NRC Somalia survey: A cough that kills people: views of Covid-19 in Somalia's displacement-affected communities, found that lack of hygiene facilities and food access are of ‘main concern’ to displaced Somalis.
  • The majority of respondents (92 per cent) said school closures were affecting their daily life as well as market inflation (67 per cent), community panic (64 per cent) and work stoppages (60 per cent).
  • On issues relating to the capacity of communities to prevent the spread of Covid-19, congestion and overcrowding was identified most, by 84.8 per cent of respondents.
  • A lack of hygiene items and facilities was the next most prevalent concern, identified by 81.7 per cent of respondents, followed by a lack of access to testing and treatment services (73.1 per cent), low levels of awareness about the virus (72 per cent) and a lack of water for handwashing (71.3 per cent).
  • Close to a third of respondents (32.9 per cent) identified issues relating to anticipated economic hardship, difficulties sustaining casual labour, inflation and inability to access basic needs as a principal concern.
  • Despite considerable containment and preparedness efforts, the country has extremely limited institutional capacity for virus detection, tracing, surveillance, laboratory testing, case management and clinical care.
  • While official messaging reflects World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance and prevailing lessons from countries that have managed to contain an outbreak of Covid-19, it presents significant challenges for large populations with limited access to soap and water, highly congested and inadequate shelter, and reliance on daily wage labour to meet basic needs.
  • The Global Humanitarian Response Plan for Covid-19 recognises the 6 million internally displaced people (IDPs) as among the most affected and at-risk populations in Somalia, noting that people have "limited access to quality essential health care and water and sanitation services and live in crowded urban and semi-urban areas."
  • A consolidated effort is required from all authorities, humanitarian and development actors to help mitigate the direct and collateral impacts of the virus, the foundation for which depends on clear, two-way communication and partnerships to help understand how displacement-affected communities see risks and how they want to address them.
Note to editors:

A link to the survey can be found here.

Images of displaced people impacted by Covid-19 can be found here.

Drone footage can be found here.

Facts and figures:


  • Somalia has a population of 12.3 million, 2.9 million of whom are in need of basic water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services.
  • Somalia has two healthcare workers per 100,000 people, compared with the global standard of 25 per 100,000.
  • Around 2.6 million people are currently displaced. An average of 928,000 people were displaced each year since 2017; 72 per cent due to the impact of floods or drought, 25 per cent due to conflict.
  • An estimated 80 per cent of those displaced arrive into urban areas, causing the expansion of Somalia’s cities and placing additional pressure on scarce
  • IDPs in urban areas are typically transformed into the urban poor, integrated into chronically poor host communities or desolate settlements with limited access to water and sanitation facilities, few livelihoods opportunities and heightened vulnerability to protection concerns including gender-based violence, exploitative labour and forced evictions.
  • A large number of those displaced rely on daily wage labour to meet their basic needs, contributing to a poverty rate of 74 per cent among displaced populations.
For more information or interviews in English and in Somali

Please contact:

Global Media Adviser Catriona Loughran on +47 909 25228 or email: