From mega-emergencies, such as the earthquake in Haiti or the floods in Pakistan, to headline-grabbing humanitarian crises, such as the conflicts in Cote d’Ivoire or Libya, the international community has stepped up to help those impacted by disaster and tragedy over the last few years.
Unfortunately, “slow-onset” humanitarian crises, such as the worsening drought in the Horn in Africa, have not received the same attention, leaving millions of women, men and children vulnerable to devastating hunger and malnutrition.
Rather than waiting for a full-blown, life-threatening disaster, that will cost exponentially more in loss of lives, livelihoods and humanitarian interventions, we must act now to save those already suffering from hunger and malnutrition as we build resiliency and food security in the region.
Unfortunately, we are already behind the curve, having lost a narrow window of opportunity to begin building upon food security gains in the Horn of Africa following several seasons of successful rains and harvests that had reduced the number of hungry people.
Today, countries in the region are confronted with the failure of the short rains in late 2010 and negative trends that threaten the long rainy season in 2011. These conditions have already increased the number of severely food insecure people. The number of those requiring emergency assistance has grown from 6.3 million in early 2011 to 10 million today – a 40 percent increase – in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda (Karamoja region). The majority of the newly affected people are reported to be in Kenya (1.2 million). In addition, the number of Somali refugees in camps in Kenya and Ethiopia has reached the unprecedented figure of about 517,000 people.
The good news is that we know what to do. In 2010, the humanitarian community created an Action Plan to address the root causes of food insecurity to bring resiliency to a region that has suffered from protracted crises for nearly three decades. This plan calls for a partnership between countries, humanitarian organizations and the development assistance community to link long-term development efforts with humanitarian assistance to build food security.
It is critical that we build household resilience, protect productive assets, reduce the scale of emergency assistance and put in place measures to avoid a similar crisis when rain inevitably fails in the future.
To ensure that complacency does not drive destiny in this region we therefore call for:
• Emergency and Sustainable Food Assistance - Full funding of emergency requirements to stop the current hunger and malnutrition from accelerating and support of safety net programs, such as school feeding and local purchase and P4P initiatives.
• Small farmer support - Immediate support to national food security plans to ensure that countries support the poorest farmers with essential assistance such as tools, seeds, fertilizers, food-based nutrition and the knowledge needed to boost agricultural production and sustain rural livelihoods.
• Proactive policy and risk reduction and investment - Supporting policies and investments that address core challenges such as climate change adaptation, preparedness and disaster risk reduction and management, rural livelihoods, productive infrastructure, production and marketing, institutions and governance, conflict resolution, pastoralist issues and access to essential health and education.
These efforts need to build upon national and regional frameworks and strategies, especially the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme led by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development. Regional organizations will be crucial for mobilizing concerted action against threats to food and nutrition security. The African Union and the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development, in particular, have an important role to play.
We recognize that emergencies in the Horn of Africa will not be stopped tomorrow. But we must seize the opportunity to break the chronic cycle of food insecurity and make sure that this is the last generation to be robbed of a future through the scourge of hunger and malnutrition.
We call on the international community to extend all the necessary political, moral and financial means required to comprehensively address the worsening crisis now affecting the Horn of Africa as we help nations in the region build a food secure destiny.
Jacques Diouf Josette Sheeran Barbara Stocking
Director-General Executive Director Chief Executive
FAO WFP Oxfam GB