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Complexities of the Horn of Africa Famine

20110823_Somalia
A Somali woman and a malnourished child exit from the medical tent after the child received emergency medical treatment from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Somalia is the country worst affected by a severe drought that has ravaged large swaths of the Horn of Africa, leaving an estimated 11 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. (UN Photo/Stuart Price)

We've been writing for the past few weeks about the complexities of the famine in the Horn of Africa. It's not just drought or political instability or rising food prices that have caused this crisis. It's many interconnected issues: When there's no water, people can't drink or grow food. Food prices rise. People can't feed or hydrate themselves or their animals. Animals die and people get sick. Malnourishment sets in, which makes people susceptible to disease. And so on and so forth.

A recent Associated Content interview with Laura Sheahen and Sara A. Fajardo of Catholic Relief Services drives home these points:

....we are currently helping to feed more than a million people in Ethiopia and have launched projects in Isiolo and Wajir, Kenya and about to launch projects in Mandera where the drought's impact has been severe. Some of the pastoralist communities living there have lost 50-100 percent of their livestock. These projects include rehabilitating wells, assisting with school-feeding programs and working on conflict mitigation projects between different pastoralist communities who may be trying to access the same limited resources.

....

Droughts are cyclical in eastern Africa and their frequency (due to a variety of factors) is on the rise. Even if it rains tomorrow and the crops start growing, it will be quite awhile before things stabilize to the point where people can harvest enough food to sustain a family. It's also important to remember that many of the drought-affected communities are pastoralists and rely on livestock for their survival. The UN estimates that it can take up to 5 years for herds of livestock to regenerate to a point that they can be relied as a consistent source of food.

This wasn't a sudden crisis: the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET) flagged trouble in late 2010 but the response was not fast. So what's needed besides short-term food aid? What we've been saying all along: Investment in poverty-focused development assistance programs that help people support themselves, so they don't have to depend on aid.

 

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