Strategy to end hunger in the Horn of Africa

The seven countries in yellow make up the Horn of Africa

In the Horn of Africa around 70 million people suffer from chronic food insecurity and are often menaced by famine. A strategy for breaking out of the region's cycles of hunger was unveiled Friday 27 October in a report presented by Jacques Diouf, Director-General of FAO. He is the head of a United Nations inter-agency task force established by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to develop a strategy for long-term food security in the Horn of Africa's seven countries: Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda.

At Friday's meeting of the UN Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC), Dr Diouf said that the strategy focuses primarily on how to solve the intractable underlying causes of chronic food insecurity. It proposes ways to protect rural people from external shocks by broadening their livelihoods and enhancing their resilience. It also recognizes the crucial need to improve the environment in which they operate -- their health, education and access to information and markets -- and the way governments perform, especially in guaranteeing the rule of law.

The UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the ACC members thanked Dr Diouf for his leadership of the task force. In addition, the Committee welcomed the inclusive approach used during the preparation of the report -- The Elimination of food insecurity in the Horn of Africa: A strategy for concerted government and UN agency action -- which involved governments of the region and NGOs, as well as UN system organizations. The ACC also appreciated the Report's analysis of the underlying causes of food insecurity and endorsed its recommendations.

In the report, the task force points to drought, conflicts, poverty and population growth as some of the main underlying causes of food insecurity. The region has long been afflicted by armed conflict, both within and between countries. More than half the people survive on less than $1 per day. The population of the region has doubled since 1974 and continues to grow rapidly. In addition, only 1 percent of the cultivable land in the region is irrigated, making it extremely vulnerable to droughts.

However, the report adds, "While drought and other natural disasters, such as floods, locusts or contagious human and livestock diseases, can predispose people to food insecurity, they need not necessarily lead to large-scale undernourishment." That the task force blames on failure to ensure access by all people at all times to sufficient food. The report also blames widespread regional and local conflict for triggering food insecurity, saying conflict drives people from their homes and disrupts marketing and distribution systems. The report warns: "Governments are using scarce resources on arms and, in 1997, the countries of the region devoted US$2 billion to the military. This discourages donors, who are prepared to support people in need but want to avoid indirectly financing warfare."

It should be possible to eliminate famine and bring about significant reductions in all manifestations of food insecurity, the report contends, through the combined efforts of the people of the region, the concerned governments and the UN system.

The report presents a concrete strategy for action. It recommends development of a Country Food Security Programme by mid 2001 by each of the seven countries in the Horn of Africa. Plans for substantially increased investments will be central, but supporting policy and institutional reforms should also be included. In addition, the task force calls for preparation of a Regional Food Security Programme to address broader issues such as conflict resolution and trade.

When these programmes are formulated, the task force recommends that a high-level regional conference should take place at which governments can commit themselves to the elimination of famine and food insecurity, and UN agencies, donors and non-governmental organizations can pledge their support. Implementation of the programmes would extend over a period of about ten years.

The ACC meeting emphasized the need to ensure that the report lead to concrete actions. "There can be no impact on the problem of food insecurity without a substantial increase in public investment," said Mr Annan. He indicated to the ACC that he would explore the possibility of having the World Bank take the lead in mobilizing resources to implement the strategy and programmes identified in the report.

View the multimedia presentation on the Horn of Africa in Shockwave (7 min) 
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31 October 2000


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