East Africa Food Crisis 2011

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  • by Anup Shah
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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 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 , 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:

  1. Somalia committed to tackling twin threats of looming famine and terrorism, President tells UN Assembly

    - UN News

    Despite efforts to move past decades of drought and conflict, Somalia is facing some of the most complex crises in the world, its President said today at the UN General Assembly, urging international partners to help the nation avert a looming famine and defeat the scourge of terrorism.

  2. Famine looms in Somalia, but many ‘hunger hotspots’ are in deep trouble

    - UN News

    The number of people facing life-threatening levels of hunger worldwide without immediate humanitarian aid, is expected to rise steeply in coming weeks, the UN said on Wednesday, in a new alert about looming famine in the Horn of Africa and beyond.

  3. ‘Tsunami of hunger’ could trigger multiple famines, Security Council warned

    - UN News

    As risks of conflict-induced famine and widespread food insecurity continue to rise, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator urged the Security Council on Thursday to address the interlinked crises, and work towards establishing lasting peace in affected regions.

  4. WMO: Climate change in Africa can destabilize ‘countries and entire regions’

    - UN News

    Water stress and hazards like withering droughts and devastating floods are hitting African communities, economies and ecosystems hard, according to a new report launched on Thursday by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). 

  5. Somalia: UN’s top humanitarian forum warns of ‘tipping point’ as famine risk rises

    - UN News

    Somalia is at a “tipping point”, with hundreds of thousands of people at immediate risk of famine, the heads of the UN’s highest-level humanitarian coordination forum have warned. 

  6. WMO: Greater Horn of Africa drought forecast to continue for fifth year

    - UN News

    As millions of people in the Greater Horn of Africa have already “suffered the longest drought in 40 years,” parts of the region are bracing for a fifth consecutive failed rainy season, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has reported.

  7. Drought, hunger and fighting leave Ethiopia in ‘very difficult humanitarian situation’

    - UN News

    Amidst deteriorating levels of malnutrition and Ethiopia’s worst drought in 40 years, 17 million people are being targeted for humanitarian assistance, the UN spokesperson said on Wednesday. 

  8. Africa drought: Some children just ‘one disease away from catastrophe’ UNICEF warns

    - UN News

    On Tuesday, UN Children’s Fund UNICEF warned that children in the Horn of Africa and the vast Sahel region “could die in devastating numbers” without urgent intervention and support. In the last five months, the number of people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia without reliable access to safe water, has risen from 9.5 million to 16.2 million

  9. WFP scales up support for millions who ‘cannot wait’ for food aid amid Horn of Africa drought

    - UN News

    As the threat of famine looms in the Horn of Africa, the World Food Programme (WFP) announced on Friday that it is scaling up operations to support millions going hungry who “cannot wait” for assistance.

  10. WHO warns of disease threat amid Horn of Africa drought

    - UN News

    The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday highlighted the need to support millions facing starvation and disease in the Horn of Africa.

  11. ‘Catastrophic’ drought displaces one million in Somalia, world asked to ‘step up’ support

    - UN News

    A devastating drought in Somalia has reached unprecedented levels, leaving one million people within the country currently registered as displaced, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Thursday.

  12. Heat, drought and wildfires during one of the warmest Julys on record– WMO

    - UN News

    Amidst extreme heat, drought and wildfires, many parts of the world had just experienced one of three warmest Julys on record, the UN weather agency said on Tuesday.

  13. From the Field: Outreach across the Horn of Africa

    - UN News

    In July, a UN human rights officer embarked on an outreach visit to the Horn of Africa’s Sool and Sanaag regions, a seven-day round-trip of more than 1,600 kilometres by road.

  14. Horn of Africa faces most ‘catastrophic’ food insecurity in decades, warns WHO

    - UN News

    The World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Tuesday that the Greater Horn of Africa is experiencing one of the worst hunger crises of the last 70 years.  

  15. Mega-drought, glacier melt, and deforestation plague Latin America and the Caribbean

    - UN News

    From the Amazon to the Andes and the snowy depths of Patagonia, extreme weather and climate change are causing mega-drought, extreme rainfall, deforestation and glacier melt across the Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region, according to a UN report published on Friday.

  16. East African Countries Seek Cross-border Cooperation to Combat Wildlife Trafficking

    - Inter Press Service

    Kigali, Jul 21 (IPS) - For many years, East African countries were considered wildlife trafficking hotspots. Now conservation organisations have started to mobilise all stakeholders to combat the illegal trade that targets animals – some to the edge of extinction.

  17. Myths Fuel Xenophobic Sentiment in South Africa

    - Inter Press Service

    Johannesburg, Jul 07 (IPS) - Around the world, from Syria to Libya, from Bangladesh to Ukraine, millions have become refugees in foreign lands due to war, famine, or political and economic instability in their countries.

  18. Conflict, drought, dwindling food support, threatens lives of 20 million in Ethiopia

    - UN News

    Hunger is tightening its grip on more than 20 million Ethiopians who are facing conflict in the north, drought in the south and dwindling food and nutrition support beginning next month, the UN food relief agency warned on Thursday.

  19. Horn of Africa braces for ‘explosion of child deaths’ as hunger crisis deepens

    - UN News

    An “explosion of child deaths” is likely and imminent in the Horn of Africa unless the international community takes immediate action to prevent a new hunger disaster, UN humanitarians warned on Tuesday.

  20. From the Field: Ethiopia’s worst drought threatens ‘deadly consequences’ for women

    - UN News

    Women and girls face “deadly consequences” in the Somali region of Ethiopia due to the worst drought conditions for forty years, according to the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA.

  21. Somalia: ‘Dire and grim’ drought, impacting more than 7 million

    - UN News

    Accompanying Somalia’s newly-appointed drought envoy on his first field visit, the United Nations’ top humanitarian official for the Horn of Africa country warned on Tuesday of the devastating outlook for millions of affected Somalis, amidst heightened risks of famine.

  22. Relief chief underlines need for urgent support as millions face drought in Horn of Africa

    - UN News

    Humanitarians continue to call for scaling up assistance in the Horn of Africa, where the worst drought in 40 years is affecting some 15 million people across Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia. 

  23. World ‘at a crossroads’ as droughts increase nearly a third in a generation

    - UN News

    Humanity is “at a crossroads” when it comes to managing drought and accelerating ways of slowing it down must happen “urgently, using every tool we can”, said the head of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) on Thursday, calling for a global commitment to support drought preparedness and resilience.

  24. Worsening drought in Horn of Africa puts up to 20 million at risk: WFP

    - UN News

    Up to 20 million people could go hungry this year as delayed rains worsen extreme drought in the Horn of Africa region amid a shortfall in humanitarian aid, the World Food Programme (WFP) said on Tuesday. 

  25. UN releases $100 million to fight hunger in 6 African countries and Yemen

    - UN News

    The UN has allocated $100 million to fight hunger in Africa and the Middle East as the spillover effects of the war in Ukraine threaten to push millions even closer to famine. 

  26. Humanitarians urge action to avert famine in Somalia and South Sudan

    - UN News

    The threat of famine is very real in Somalia and South Sudan and urgent action is needed now to avoid a catastrophe, UN humanitarians warned on Tuesday.

  27. Perils of Hunger, Food Insecurity in Southern Africa- Challenges & Opportunities

    - Inter Press Service

    JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Apr 05 (IPS) - Food systems are under severe stress around the world now. The thresholds of tolerance are already exceeding limits with millions facing acute food and water scarcity throughout all continents. Over a quarter of Africa’s population are facing hunger and food insecurity. Conflict, droughts, flooding, rising unemployment, inequality, economic crises, and the impacts of Covid-19 pandemic have been ravaging the Continent on an unprecedented scale.

  28. Growing risk of Somalia famine, as drought impact worsens

    - UN News

    The Horn of Africa is experiencing the worst drought since 1981, and a shortfall in aid funding is putting the lives of millions of Somalis in danger.

  29. Severe drought threatens 13 million with hunger in Horn of Africa

    - UN News

    An estimated 13 million people are waking up severely hungry every day in the Horn of Africa, as the region grapples with a major drought caused by the driest conditions since 1981, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned on Tuesday.

  30. No Perfect Solution: Africa's Smallholder Farmers Must Use Both Traditional and New Practices

    - Inter Press Service

    Feb 07 (IPS) - As an agricultural and environmental scientist, I’ve worked for decades exploring the practical challenges that smallholder farmers encounter in East Africa. These include controlling weeds that can choke their crops and looking for new ways to deal with pests or diseases that threaten their harvests.

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  • by Anup Shah
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