Serious commitment to fight hunger in the Horn of Africa



 

The seven countries in yellow make up the Horn of Africa
A serious commitment is emerging to eliminate hunger in the Horn of Africa, where more than 40 percent of the 160 million people suffer from chronic food insecurity.

At a three-day consultative meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, 2-4 July, 180 participants from the region -- senior government officials and representatives of international aid organizations, UN agencies and NGOs -- launched an initiative aimed at achieving long-term food security in the Horn of Africa's seven countries: Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda. These countries are considered to be among the most food insecure in the world and are often threatened by famine.

The meeting was a follow-up to the Horn of Africa Task Force on long-term food security, launched by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in April 2000. The task force, which involved 10 UN agencies and was chaired by FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf, presented its report and strategy in October 2000.

The purpose of the Nairobi meeting was to allow the affected countries to comment on the strategy, to agree on how to put it into action and to secure the commitment of governments, donors, UN agencies, research organizations and NGOs to move forward with the food-security initiative.

"All are very keen to act," says Michael Wales, FAO focal point on the follow-up to the task force. "But the most striking thing was the level of commitment from the governments. They don't want to keep calling for emergency food relief. Their aim is for long-term actions that will reduce hunger."

National teams to fight hunger
At the meeting -- convened by the World Bank and facilitated by FAO -- representatives from each of the seven countries committed their governments to the strategy's twin-track approach to fighting hunger, which combines activities to meet the immediate needs of food-deficit households with longer-term measures to bring about lasting improvements in livelihoods. All governments agreed to create national teams to serve as focal points for food-security issues. The teams will work to make food-security programmes more effective and will seek to attract more funds for concrete hunger-fighting initiatives. Mr Wales estimates that setting up these teams and providing them with support over the next three years requires around US$15 million.

"But it is a 'win-win' situation for both the countries and the donors," says Mr Wales. "The countries reduce their dependency on emergency food aid, and the donors can spend the funds on more sustainable, longer-term development projects."

A farmer plowing his field in Ethiopia, one of the countries setting up a national team to fight food insecurity
(13961/M.Heuzé/FAO)

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Working together
The Horn of Africa has long been afflicted by armed conflict, both within and between countries. More than half the people survive on less than US$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 is irrigated, making it extremely vulnerable to droughts.

Participants at the meeting expressed the common understanding that peace, macroeconomic stability and sound poverty-reduction strategies would be crucial in the fight to secure sufficient food for the region's population.

The first step was to discuss these issues. "The meeting gave a rare opportunity for different groups to meet," says Mr Wales. "Countries that have recently been at war sat down with each other, NGOs and governments sat together, and throughout the meeting there was a very friendly and constructive atmosphere."

The government representatives decided to form a Food Security Steering Committee comprising senior officials from each country. In this forum, ideas can be exchanged and cross-border food-security problems addressed.

"It was interesting to see how the countries themselves took the initiative to form the steering committee," says Mr Wales. "The ownership, and the feeling of responsibility is shifting from the UN to the governments of the region." This steering committee will meet in Nairobi in mid-October to agree on the detailed mechanisms for implementing the initiative.

The meeting agreed that the steering committee should report concrete progress on the initiative to the World Food Summit: five years later, to be held at FAO headquarters in Rome in November.

 

View a multimedia presentation on the situation in the Horn of Africa (Shockwave 7 min) 
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19 July 2001

 

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