East Africa Food Crisis 2011

Author and Page information

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

On this page:

  1. Introduction
  2. Early warning systems had predicted this months earlier
  3. Massive funding shortfall — assuming anyone cares
  4. One of the worst crises in recent history
  5. Media coverage
  6. More information
    1. News stories from IPS

Introduction

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 describes1: 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.

Back to top

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 2, 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 Horn3, East Africa Food Security Alert, FEWS.net, November 2, 2010

Back to top

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 4, 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 effort5, 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 funds6 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.

Back to top

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 7, Inter Press Service, July 21, 2011

Back to top

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 Libya8 with military and other actions, when far less people (in number) were affected.

Back to top

More information

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

  • Detailed information from UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs9
  • Coverage from UN’s refugee agency10
  • Coverage from UNICEF11
  • Coverage from Oxfam12, including a report13 on key recommendations for local governments and the international community.
  • News coverage from allAfrica.com14

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:

    Back to top

    Where next?

    Related articles

    1. Conflicts in Africa—Introduction
    2. East Africa Food Crisis 2011
    3. Middle East and North Africa Unrest
    4. Crisis in Libya
    5. Cote d’Ivoire Crisis
    6. The Democratic Republic of Congo
    7. Nigeria and Oil
    8. Sierra Leone
    9. Conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea
    10. Rwanda

    Online Sources:

    (Note that listed here are only those hyperlinks to other articles from other web sites or elsewhere on this web site. Other sources such as journal, books and magazines, are mentioned above in the original text. Please also note that links to external sites are beyond my control. They might become unavailable temporarily or permanently since you read this, depending on the policies of those sites, which I cannot unfortunately do anything about.)

    1. Elise Ford, 'East Africa Food Crisis: Poor rains, poor response', Oxfam, July 20, 2011, http://www.oxfam.org/en/policy/east-africa-food-crisis
    2. http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=56574
    3. http://www.fews.net/docs/Publications/EA_Regional%20Alert%20Oct%202010_Final.pdf
    4. http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=56574
    5. http://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressrelease/2011-07-20/donors-and-governments-fail-deliver-east-africa-aid
      -effort
    6. Rosebell Kagumire, 'East Africa: The preventable crisis', Oxfam, July 28, 2011, http://blogs.oxfam.org/en/blog/11-07-28-east-africa-preventable-crisis
    7. http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=56574
    8. Global Issues: “Crisis in Libya”, Created: Monday, April 04, 2011, http://www.globalissues.org/article/793/libya
    9. http://www.unocha.org/crisis/horn-africa-crisis
    10. http://www.unhcr.org/pages/4e1ff4b06.html
    11. http://www.unicef.org/
    12. http://www.oxfam.org/en/emergencies/east-africa-food-crisis
    13. http://www.oxfam.org/en/policy/east-africa-food-crisis
    14. http://allafrica.com/

    Author and Page Information

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

    Back to top