Taking Action for the Horn of Africa

Liz Wilson looks at what you can do to support the crisis in the Horn of Africa.

As you cannot fail to be aware, the UN has declared a famine in two areas in southern Somalia, and announced that without more urgent humanitarian assistance the famine will spread to five or six more areas.

Famine has a technical definition based on food security and nutrition. In order for a famine to be declared, there must be evidence of the following three conditions:

1. At least 20 percent of the population has fewer than 2,100 calories of food a day;

2. Prevalence acute malnutrition must exceed 30 percent of children; and

3. The death rate must exceed two deaths per 10,000 people, or four child deaths per 10,000 people per day.

An estimated 12.4 million people are in need of humanitarian aid in the Horn of Africa. The UN is appealing for $1.6 billion dollars, $1 billion of which has been committed to date.

The UN cites the worst drought in 60 years as the main problem which is ravaging the region.

The world knew this drought was coming. Early warning systems kicked in some time ago to let us know that that the rains would fail. But early warnings have not translated into early responses, and the international media is now focused on the tragic fallout from drought.

But as Simon Levine at ODI points out, ‘famines don’t occur in pastoral areas when rains fail unless they have other problems’. Those other problems are many and wide ranging, including regional conflict, other hindrances to pastoralist mobility, poor water management, and inappropriate aid responses. Levine believes that the situation is only likely to get worse in the next few months as these problems continue and the crisis deepens.

The FT has also focused on the structural issues of markets and management in an affected part of Kenya, compounded by the drought. The FT points out that even before the drought this year, many people in the region already received food relief and those underlying issues need to be addressed.

But it is also important to note that the challenges faced in Somalia are uniquely acute because of the ongoing and chronic local conflict that frames everyday life. As Jean-Bernard Véron from AFD argues, lawlessness and violent social instability has made Somalia not only more vulnerable to food system shocks, but also more difficult to reach with humanitarian aid. This situation is unlikely to improve unless there is a fundamental change in both local governance and the way in which the international community approaches its relationship with Somalia.

How can we avoid this happening (yet again)?

There is a lot we can learn from previous crises in the region, and how we can support livelihoods accordingly.

Roger Thurow writing for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs is convinced that better support for agricultural development in the region, as well as large scale international funds such as the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme would be a sound investment to prevent the need for humanitarian interventions in the future.

So what action can you take for the Horn of Africa now?

You can donate to the Disasters Emergency Committee to support the work of UK humanitarian agencies working in the region.

You can draw attention to this ongoing humanitarian emergency by signing ONE’s petition to world leaders to fill the funding gap for the international response.

There are other ways you can help to raise awareness – have a looks at these ideas from WFP and the Red Cross.

And you can contribute to the political and technical debates about how this crisis could be avoided in the future. Everyone is agreed that we have to make sure that this never happens again. The question is how.

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