Famine in Somalia – Lessons learned from other droughts

20/08/2011 at 4:58 pm 2 comments

The crisis in the Horn of Africa, already dubbed the worst famine this century, is set to worsen in the coming months, with the next rains not expected until October and harvests months away.

In terms of the sheer numbers of people affected, this is one of the worst droughts the world has seen in a long time. Irish aid agencies are assisting the most vulnerable people, generously supported by the people and Government of Ireland, and their website, www.HowYouCanHelp.ie, provides plenty of information on how NGOs work to ensure that aid from Ireland reaches those most in need.

Over many years of responding to droughts, Irish NGOs have learned a number of important lessons about the complex relationships between drought, food scarcity and famine. Some of these lessons include:

Lesson 1: Understanding the impact of droughts is important

  • Famine is not caused by drought alone. Drought is a recurring phenomenon in many countries, reducing harvest yields and resulting in serious economic, social, and environmental stress. Persistent drought can lead to food scarcity and failed harvests. But drought only leads to famine in situations where other factors, usually to do with failing markets or governments, are at play.
  • People go hungry when they cannot access enough food. Generally, famines are not about an absence of food, but about poor people not being able to access food, either because they cannot afford it or because they cannot physically get to it (eg. in situations of conflict).
  • Drought is not like other natural hazards. Although droughts are normal, recurring features in virtually all climatic zones, the effects of droughts often accumulate slowly over a long period and may linger for years afterwards. And unlike earthquakes, floods or hurricanes, the impact can be felt in large areas and by large numbers of people. Unlike in most other situations of natural disasters, relief operations responding to droughts will be large-scale and long-term.
  • People survive droughts because they have coping mechanisms. People can often survive droughts and other shocks because they have diverse income sources and may survive by selling assets, using reserves from wild foods, or by mutual assistance in the form of grain or food banks. Droughts only lead to a crisis if these coping mechanisms are overwhelmed.

Lesson 2: International assistance helps reduce the impact of droughts

  • Aid works. In the current crisis, the drought has affected large parts of Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Tanzania and Somalia. Yet only in Somalia has the drought led to famine conditions. In countries like Ethiopia, famine has been avoided because of the safety net programme and disaster management system set up by the Ethiopian government, and supported by overseas aid.
  • International aid must be based on local capacities. Slow-onset disasters such as droughts don’t always demand humanitarian intervention, particularly where governments and communities work together to reduce the impact on affected people.
  • In large scale emergencies, it can be necessary to bring in food supplies from abroad. But in most cases, food can be sourced locally or regionally, boosting employment and ensuring cultural appropriateness of the food.

Lesson 3: Preventing famine is about reducing poverty and vulnerability

  • Prevention is better than providing emergency relief. The impacts of drought, like those of other natural hazards, can be reduced through mitigation and preparedness. In the last decade, investment in early warning systems has paid off, and aid agencies have information available about rainfall, vegetation and trends in food prices. Effective early warning systems can indicate who needs help, how much relief is required and when is it needed. But prevention should be about sustained investment in long-term solutions that reduce vulnerabilities, not just in predicting emergencies.
  • Early warnings do not guarantee effective responses. Although there is more time to plan and implement an appropriate response in a slow-onset disasters such as drought, in practice donors tend to act only when it is too late, and an emergency has been declared. Past experience shows that on many occasions, early warnings were ignored by governments and donors. One reason for this is that while it is known in advance that the drought will have an impact – on water availability, crop and livestock production and prices – it is not always clear how well people will manage. More surprisingly, however, is that international investment in agriculture has fallen steadily over the last decades, and programmes aimed at reducing people’s vulnerabilities to drought have found it difficult to attract funding.
  • Droughts and other natural hazards affect the most vulnerable people. In many countries with arid areas, for example, nomadic or seasonally nomadic people (“transhumance”) are particularly marginalised and vulnerable. People with disabilities, older people, women and children also are at greater risk.
  • Conflict and weak democracies contribute significantly to late responses to, or massive damage caused by, natural hazards. As famously pointed out by Amartya Sen, famines don’t happen in democracies. Societies and governments that look after their citizens tend to put the necessary measures in place to avoid disaster. Undemocratic societies, however, that neglect poor people, are more likely to let natural droughts result in outright famine.

Lesson 4: Protecting people’s livelihoods is key to saving lives and reducing vulnerability

  • Long term solutions must include adaptation to climate change. Over the last number of decades, droughts have increased in many regions of the world, adding to a downward spiral of impoverishment and increased vulnerability. Food insecurity is growing, not just in developing countries, but also in richer ones, and livelihood systems are becoming less resilient. As weather patterns become more extreme and less predictable, new coping mechanisms (to short term events) and adaptation strategies (to longer-term changes) will be required. Without deep and urgent reductions in Greenhouse Gas emission by the most polluting countries, however, coping mechanisms and adaptation capacities will inevitably be overwhelmed.
  • Adequate investment is needed in agriculture and rural livelihoods of smallholder farmers and pastoralists. Lack of investment by both local governments and the international donor community to agriculture has declined significantly since the 1980s.This needs to be rectified over the short-term by ensuring that agriculture clusters are sufficiently funded and the long-term in order to protect livelihoods and reduce the vulnerability of people to shocks and crises.

Recommended further reading:

Entry filed under: NGOs. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

World Humanitarian Day – Suggested Resources Including older people in development policy & practice

2 Comments Add your own

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 214 other followers

Archives

Dóchas on Twitter

The World's Best News - images

One of the most important graphs. Ever.

http://ourworldindata.org/data/health/maternal-mortality/ Today is World Food Day.

A day to celebrate that the days of truly enormous famines are over: http://blog.concern.net/global-hunger-index-2015-mapping-the-worlds-hunger Meet "Chocolate Mamas", producers of chocolate in #Tanzania, creating Tanzanian jobs. 
While #cocoa is grown in West Africa and Asia,
most #chocolate (the finished product) is made in Europe or the USA.

Meet Jaki Kweka, who is trying to change that. By creating protected areas and national parks and by limiting the spread of soy bean cultivation, Brazil has managed to drastically reduce the amount of rain forest being cleared.

http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/deforestation-in-the-amazon-has-plummeted-almost-90pt/ Costa Rica, #Afghanistan, China, #India and Albania are all embracing renewable energy sources.

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/sep/15/five-developing-countries-ditching-fossil-fuels-china-india-costa-rica-afghanistan-albania?CMP=share_btn_tw Social change needs empowered citizens, and empowered citizens need occasional encouragement.

Great to hear that we're not the only ones who believe in the power of positive news! 50,000 rice farmers in #IvoryCoast are now working with better seeds, improving food security in the West African country.

As a result, harvests have increased.

Source: World Bank, photo: Jbdodane / CC BY Sub-Saharan Africa’s first light rail system starts operations. 
As Ethiopians celebrate their New Year, they also prepare to mark the beginning of operations of a tram system in the #Ethiopian capital #AddisAbaba. 
Read more: http://mgafrica.com/article/2015-09-20-sub-saharan-africas-first-light-rail-system-starts-operationsyou-guessed-it-in-ethiopia Going Mobile in #Malawi”. A mobile phone information service established last year to provide timely information to rural poor farmers in a southern African country, has been used nearly half a million times since its launch.

Established in Malawi by Gorta-Self Help Africa last year, the ‘321’ voice-activated service provides subscribers to the country’s largest mobile phone network with farm information and advice that they can access at the push of a button. And it’s all free. Read more at http://dochas.ie/sites/default/files/The-Worlds-Best-News-2015_0.pdf 10,000 copies of "The World's Best News" were distributed all over #ireland today!

See how The Irish Times described our newspaper, and click the link to read all the articles online!

http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/inside-out/have-you-read-the-world-s-best-news-1.2355806

Visitors Map

Map

Dóchas Photos

President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins and members of the YMCA youth group.

President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins at the 2016 Irish Summit on the Sustainable Development Goals at Croke Park hosted by Dóchas

More Photos

%d bloggers like this: