East Africa Food Crisis 2011

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  • by Anup Shah
  • This Page Created Sunday, July 31, 2011


Into mid-2011, the world’s worst food crisis is being felt in East Africa, in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya.

Despite successive failed rains, the crisis has been criticized as avoidable and man-made. This is because the situation had been predicted many months before by an international early warning system. Both the international community and governments in the region have been accused of doing very little in the lead up to this crisis. In addition, high food prices have forced food out of the reach of many people, while conflict in Somalia has exacerbated the situation.

As the international organization Oxfam describes: 12 million people are in dire need of food, clean water, and basic sanitation. Loss of life on a massive scale is a very real risk, and the crisis is set to worsen over the coming months, particularly for pastoralist communities.

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Early warning systems had predicted this months earlier

As Inter Press Service (IPS) reported, despite the conflicts in the region,

The world had an opportunity to save thousands of lives that are being lost in parts of Somalia due to the famine, if only the donor community had paid attention to the early warning systems that predicted it eight months ago.

“There has been a catastrophic breakdown of the world's collective responsibility to act. 3,500 people a day are fleeing Somalia and arriving in parts of Ethiopia and Kenya that are suffering one of the driest years in six decades. Food, water and emergency aid are desperately needed. By the time the U.N. calls it a famine it is already a signal of large scale loss of life,” Oxfam said.

Isaiah Esipisu, Horn Of Africa: Poor Attention to Forecasts to Blame for Famine in Somalia, Inter Press Service, July 21, 2011

Knowing about these things in advance is significant in terms of lives, costs and preparedness. The US government agency USAID’s Famine Early Warning System Network had predicted the crisis in November 2010, noting that

food security outcomes are likely to worsen, particularly among the poorest households whose coping capacity is the most limited.

In areas at‐risk of worsening food security, households may require livelihood support to prevent asset loss, household food deficits, and negative coping. Potential interventions in pastoral areas include rehabilitation of water points (boreholes), increased veterinary services targeting the dry season grazing areas, commercial off‐take programs, and nutrition support programs targeting poorer households. In the cropping southwest marginal areas of Kenya, and in Rwanda and Burundi, the scale‐up of resource transfer programs may be required to minimize the food security impacts of the La Niña event [that was observed at the end of 2010].

Pre-emptive livelihood support could mitigate likely La Niña impacts in the eastern Horn PDF formatted document, East Africa Food Security Alert, FEWS.net, November 2, 2010

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Massive funding shortfall — assuming anyone cares

As international humanitarian and development organization Oxfam explained, many (often simple) preventative actions could have been taken, assuming funds were available earlier:

“Whenever there is an indicator of such a disaster, we must not only sit and wait for the emergency response. We can conveniently invest the funds by putting irrigation systems in place, vaccinating people, especially children, against anticipated diseases, and creating proper infrastructure to be used in case there is need for food supply,” said [Anna Ridout, Oxfam’s spokesperson]

Isaiah Esipisu, Horn Of Africa: Poor Attention to Forecasts to Blame for Famine in Somalia, Inter Press Service, July 21, 2011

But, as Oxfam notes in another article, donors and governments fail to deliver on East Africa aid effort:

The overall humanitarian requirements for the region this year, according to the UN appeals, are $1.87 billion. These are so far 45 percent funded, leaving a gap of over $1 billion still remaining: gaps of $332m and $296m for the Kenya and Somalia UN appeals respectively, and $398m for the government-run appeal in Ethiopia

In the last two weeks there have been new pledges of $205m, leaving a gap of $800m still remaining.

The UK has pledged an estimated $145m in the past two weeks - almost 15 percent of what is needed. The EU has pledged around $8m so far, with more expected in the coming days. Spain has pledged nearly $10m, Germany around $8.5m. France has so far not pledged any new money, and Denmark and Italy have said no significant new sums are available.

Donors and governments fail to deliver on East Africa aid effort, Oxfam, July 20, 2011

But it is not just the international community. Various actors in the region also face criticism and question. For example, as the above IPS article had also noted, the effects of the drought were made worse by the Al Shabaab militia group in Somalia, which had blocked donor agencies from operating within its territories in 2009 — now the famine zones. Admittedly, the extremist group recently lifted its ban, as IPS also noted.

Another example is the governments of the affected countries as well as the African Union. Ugandan journalist, Rosebell Kagumire, writing for Oxfam, noted that the African Union had complained about lack of funds because governments have not put enough money in. Although Kenya opened its borders for an influx of Somalian refugees, Kagumire criticized the response as lacking urgency and not being effective.

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One of the worst crises in recent history

The crisis is one of the worst in recent history:

Compared to previous famines, the current situation in Somalia compares or exceeds those reported during recent years in Niger (2005), Ethiopia (2001), Sudan (1998) and Somalia (1992). However, this is the most severe food security crisis in Africa since the 1991/92 Somalia famine, according to the U.N. Between January and June this year, 300,000 people in Mogadishu were given food assistance by humanitarian agencies on a monthly basis. Approximately 100,000 malnourished children were treated through some 418 nutrition centres in south Somalia from January to May 2011.

The current crisis in Somalia is expected to have an increasingly devastating effect on other countries in the region. However, generally, the Horn of Africa has 11.5 million people in crisis, including the 3.7 million in Somalia.

Isaiah Esipisu, Horn Of Africa: Poor Attention to Forecasts to Blame for Famine in Somalia, Inter Press Service, July 21, 2011

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Media coverage

Somewhat predictably, media coverage seems spotty. At times there are detailed reports, often responding to government and other large international agency pushes to address the crises. Other times, the coverage vanishes from mainstream headlines and prime time viewing almost as soon as reporting has started.

On the morning of Sunday, July 31, during a review of British Sunday newspapers by the BBC, commentators noted how only one paper had a front page story about this crisis while almost all of them had something about a second Royal wedding. (It wasn’t necessarily ignoring Africa, either, as the also important story about the US debt crisis also barely featured on any papers headlines!)

And of course, most of the reporting has followed after the crisis has happened.

It is also interesting to note how quickly the “international community” mobilized against Libya with military and other actions, when far less people (in number) were affected.

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More information

For more about the issues from other organizations, here are some starting points:

News stories from IPS

Below is a list of stories from Inter Press Service as they cover this event. Revisit this page frequently to see newer stories as the crisis unfolds:

Chatterjee, new Resident Coordinator, to lead 25 UN agencies in East Africa

Friday, August 26, 2016

NAIROBI, KENYA, Aug 26 (IPS) - Siddharth Chatterjee, the Representative of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in Kenya, has been appointed UN Resident Coordinator, where he will lead and coordinate 25 UN agencies in East Africa. At the same time, he will also serve as the Resident Representative of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

Climate-Smart Agriculture for Drought-Stricken Madagascar

Thursday, August 04, 2016

AMBOASARY, Madagascar, Aug 04 (IPS) - Mirantsoa Faniry Rakotomalala is different from most farmers in the Greater South of Madagascar, who are devastated after losing an estimated 80 percent of their crops during the recent May/June harvesting season to the ongoing drought here, said to be the most severe in 35 years.

New Alliance to Shore Up Food Security Launched in Africa

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

CAPE TOWN, Aug 02 (IPS) - As over 20 million sub-Saharan Africans face a shortage of food because of drought and development issues, representatives of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Pan African Parliament (PAP) met in Johannesburg to forge a new parliamentary alliance focusing on food and nutritional security.

Newly Empowered Black Farmers Ruined by South Africa’s Drought

Saturday, July 30, 2016

CAPETOWN, Jul 30 (IPS) - Almost half a decade of drought across most of South Africa has led to small towns in crisis and food imports for the first time in over 20 years, as well as severely hampering the government's planned land redistribution programme.

Malagasy Children Bear Brunt of Severe Drought

Friday, July 08, 2016

AMBOVOMBE, Madagascar, Jul 08 (IPS) - Voahevetse Fotetse can easily pass for a three-year-old even though he is six and a pupil at Ankilimafaitsy Primary School in Ambovombe district, Androy region, one of the most severely affected by the ongoing drought in the South of Madagascar.

Drought Dries Up Money from Honey

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Jun 15 (IPS) - "It is everything" is how smallholder farmer Nyovane Ndlovu describes beekeeping, which has long been an alternative sweet source of income for drought-beaten farmers in Zimbabwe.

Seeds for Supper as Drought Intensifies in South Madagascar

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

BEKILY, Madagascar, Jun 14 (IPS) - Havasoa Philomene did not have any maize when the harvesting season kicked off at the end of May since like many in the Greater South of Madagascar, she had already boiled and eaten all her seeds due to the ongoing drought.

El Nino-Induced Drought in Zimbabwe

Friday, April 29, 2016

BUHERA, Zimbabwe, Apr 29 (IPS) - Emaciated and with their ribs jutting out, Evans Sinyoro's cattle lie on the ground overlooking a dry patch of land while the small earth dam nearby is also dry, thanks to the El Nino-induced drought wreaking havoc across Zimbabwe.

Harvesting Rainwater to Weather Drought in Northeast Argentina

Monday, April 25, 2016

CORZUELA, Argentina, Apr 25 (IPS) - In a semiarid region in the northeast Argentine province of Chaco, small farmers have adopted a simple technique to ensure a steady water supply during times of drought: they harvest the rain and store it in tanks, as part of a climate change adaptation project.

Jamaica’s Drought Tool Could Turn the Table on Climate Change

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

KINGSTON, Jamaica, Jan 13 (IPS) - On a very dry November 2013, Jamaica's Meteorological Service made its first official drought forecast when the newly developed Climate Predictability Tool (CPT) was used to predict a high probability of below average rainfall in the coming three months.

Drought Boosts Science in Dominican Republic

Monday, January 11, 2016

SANTO DOMINGO, Jan 11 (IPS) - The recent lengthy drought in the Dominican Republic, which began to ease in late 2015, caused serious losses in agriculture and prompted national water rationing measures and educational campaigns.

Drought Threatens Water-Truck Lifeline in Parched Northeast Brazil

Thursday, November 26, 2015

São José Dos Campos, Brazil, Nov 26 (IPS) - For the rural community of Pacheco in northeastern Brazil, the local school has never been so important. It is now the only place in the drought-stricken area that has water on tap.

Jamaica’s Aging Water Systems Falter Under Intense Heat and Drought

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

KINGSTON, Jamaica, Nov 18 (IPS) - This past summer Jamaicans sweltered through their third consecutive year of reduced rainfall resulting in wild fires, a crop-killing drought and daily water cuts.

One-Third of Papua New Gineans Suffering Drought Crisis

Friday, November 13, 2015

GOROKA, Eastern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea, Nov 13 (IPS) - An estimated one-third of the population of Papua New Guinea, the most populous Pacific Island state, is now suffering in from the country's worst drought this century and experts predict El Nino's influence will carry on through March 2016.

Lessons from Jamaica's Billion-Dollar Drought

Monday, November 24, 2014

MORANT BAY, Jamaica, Nov 24 (IPS) - As Jamaica struggles under the burden of an ongoing drought, experts say ensuring food security for the most vulnerable groups in society is becoming one of the leading challenges posed by climate change.

Drought Plagues Brazil’s Richest Metropolis

Friday, October 10, 2014

RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 10 (IPS) - Agricultural losses are no longer the most visible effect of the drought plaguing Brazil's most developed region. Now the energy crisis and the threat of water shortages in the city of São Paulo are painful reminders of just how dependent Brazilians are on regular rainfall.

South Sudan Heads towards Famine and Descends into Lawlessness

Thursday, August 14, 2014

JUBA, South Sudan , Aug 14 (IPS) - Another deadline has passed. But instead of bringing about peace, the leaders of South Sudan's warring parties have allowed the country to continue its slide toward famine.

El Niño Triggers Drought, Food Crisis in Nicaragua

Thursday, July 10, 2014

MANAGUA, Jul 10 (IPS) - The spectre of famine is haunting Nicaragua. The second poorest country in Latin America, and one of the 10 most vulnerable to climate change in the world, is facing a meteorological phenomenon that threatens its food security.

DRC Conflict Hinders East African Integration

Monday, November 04, 2013

GOMA, DR Congo, Nov 04 (IPS) - As the majority of East African Community countries signed an agreement paving the way for a single tourist visa in the region from 2014, some believe that Tanzania's hesitance to agree to this integration is largely due to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Fight Against Drought Is Grounds for Political Divorce in Brazil

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jul 31 (IPS) - The decisions taken by the Brazilian government in the fight against drought in the country's semiarid Northeast are an example of the disconnect between politicians and the citizens, which triggered an unexpected wave of protests in June.

Living Laboratory for Coping with Drought in Brazil

Thursday, July 04, 2013

RIACHÃO DO JACUIPE, Brazil, Jul 04 (IPS) - The first surprise on arriving at Abel Manto's farm is how green it is, in contrast with the dry brown surroundings. His beans and fruit trees seem oblivious to the persistent drought in the semi-arid hinterland of northeast Brazil, the worst in 50 years.

Angola Slow on Drought Response as People Die of Hunger

Friday, June 28, 2013

DUBAI, Jun 28 (IPS) - Church groups, local NGOs and international aid organisations have launched appeals to get supplies to drought-stricken southern Angola where people are reported to be dying from a lack of food and water. It is estimated that between half a million and 800,000 people have been affected.

Transparency Could Tighten Drought Policy

Friday, March 15, 2013

GENEVA, Mar 15 (IPS) - Scientists gathered in Geneva for the first High-level Meeting on National Drought Policy (HMNDP) in over 30 years have identified data collection and sharing as some of the main challenges to effective prevention of drought. Clear goals and strong political will are vital to building policies at the national level, they say.

Drought Hits Policies

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

GENEVA, Mar 13 (IPS) - Drought has dramatically increased as a consequence of climate change. Most countries react to it only after it has occurred, but don't have national policies to prevent it. The high-level meeting on national drought policies in Geneva this week is trying to match scientific knowledge with political awareness.

India Strives to Become ‘Drought Proof’

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

HYDERABAD, India, Mar 12 (IPS) - In a country of 1.2 billion people, the threat of drought takes on epic proportions.

Over a period of two centuries (between 1801 and 2002), India experienced 42 severe droughts, according to the Indian Space Research Organisation. One of these, in 1979, cut food grain production by 20 percent; another, in 1987, damaged 58.6 million hectares of cultivated land, affecting 285 million people.

U.S. Drought Exposes 'Hydro-Illogical' Water Management

Saturday, August 11, 2012

NEW YORK, Aug 11 (IPS) - The historic drought withering much of the United States this summer has revealed a need for strategies to better manage water supplies that could remain under severe pressure both this year and in the longer term.

Droughts Bring Climate Change Home to Nepali Farmers

Monday, August 06, 2012

CHITWAN, Nepal, Aug 06 (IPS) - Farmers in this fertile central district of south Nepal are convinced that an intense drought between May and early July that destroyed their maize crops is the result of climate change. 

“Famine May Have Ended, But For Us Hunger Has Not”

Friday, July 20, 2012

MOGADISHU, Jul 20 (IPS) - One-year-old Miriam Jama is a symbol of life in Somalia after the famine. Born just as the United Nations World Food Programme declared famine in this Horn of Africa nation a year ago on Jul. 20, Miriam has known no other life than the one in the Badbaado refugee camp, situated 10 kilometres outside the country’s capital, Mogadishu.

East Africa’s Financial Integration Slow off the Starting Blocks

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

NAIROBI, Jul 17 (IPS) - For months now East Africans have been expectantly waiting for an economic revolution to begin as they anticipate the launch of a new standardised payment system that will integrate the electronic transfer of money in the region. But continued delays in the launch of the system have economists fearing that the weak financial infrastructure here is hindering its implementation.

Overnight Shift from Drought to Flooding in Central Cuba

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The sudden shift from drought to heavy rainfall that caused severe flooding in central Cuba drove home to the authorities the need to redesign preparedness and prevention plans for climate-related emergencies.

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  • by Anup Shah
  • Created: Sunday, July 31, 2011

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