Jowhar has traditionally been an agricultural and production hub for south central Somalia, particularly Mogadishu. Rice, sugarcane, and banana cultivation and fired clay brick and other building construction material production were once key sectors in the region. With the ongoing civil war, however, the entire national infrastructure has collapsed, along with these economic lifelines.
Over the last 20 years, thousands of internally displaced people from different regions of Somalia have occupied public buildings and land in Jowhar, and there is an urgent need to relocate and durably resettle these families. Apart from the humanitarian aspect, these informal settlements and the resultant informal economy are major hurdles to revitalizing the economic life of the region.
Since the beginning of 2009, UN-HABITAT – generously funded by Sweden and Italy – has rolled out a shelter and livelihoods project in Jowhar, focusing on permanent, community-driven shelter development and an appropriate building material production and training centre. Both women and men are involved, and the shelter and centre have become tangible community assets with peace dividends.
Land for the shelter and centre development was provided after consultation with the local authorities and community elders. Through a joint effort, the land was secured and tenure of property was offered to displaced and urban poor families selected through a baseline survey from among Jowhar’s 1,356 displaced households and 2,587 poor households.
The town’s fluctuating stability creates a very challenging operational environment, but two local partners – Farjano Foundation and Somali Youth for Peace and Development – have been able to establish very good rapport with the authorities (previously the Transitional Federal Government, now Al Shabaab) and the local communities.
The shelter development, material production, and training activities – as well as the rehabilitation of the milk and vegetable market and clean-up of the town’s surface drains – used a labour-intensive process that boosted opportunities for employment and skill development.
Local elders ensured an efficient transition as the authorities changed. The security situation led to project delays due to the necessary negotiations. However, the situation provided an opportunity to discuss with the various actors tenets of governance, local authority financing, and service delivery, as well as the UN’s humanitarian mandate.
Since the project started, a significant number of young men have moved to Jowhar in search of work. Local and regional businesses have also benefitted from the upsurge in the supply of or demand for construction materials, tools, equipment, and transport.
The shelter design allows for a basic but comfortable standard of living, which is in harmony with the community lifestyle. A secure tenure, land-and-property rights certificate signed by all parties, including the local authorities, minimizes the threat of eviction.
When a settlement develops, organizes itself, and makes basic public services available, sustainable local governance is greatly enhanced. Household taxes can be collected from families who improved their livelihood opportunities and gained property ownership. Indeed, durable settlement development has a huge capacity for developing a society, building peace, and reviving local economies and livelihoods. In Jowhar, the displaced families are now permanent citizens of the town.