The number of those requiring emergency assistance has grown from 6.3 million in early 2011 to 12.3 million in September – nearly twice as many today, from Djibouti (146 000), Ethiopia (4.5 million), Kenya (3.7 million), Somalia (4 million) and Uganda, Karamoja region (815 000). In addition, the number of Somali refugees in camps in Kenya and Ethiopia has reached alarming levels. A steady stream of Somali refugees has turned into a mass exodus, forcing an average of 1,400 people a day to seek refuge at the Dadaab complex in northeast Kenya.
FAO issued its first warnings in November 2010 after one of the driest October-December seasons recorded in 60 years associated with a strong La Niña event. Some of the pastoral cropping areas recorded their second or third consecutive poor rainy season. Since late last year, FAO has sent out alerts about the increased risk of a severe drought through the Food Security and Nutrition Working Group (FSNWG) in Nairobi. The FAO-managed Somalia Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) issued its first warnings with the onset of the La Niña event in August 2010 and confirmed the rapidly deteriorating situation in late 2010 and early 2011.
Monthly bulletins are compiled and disseminated to different stakeholders in the Eastern and Central African region (NGOs, UN agencies, government institutions and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)). Since these NGOs and government ministries operate at the farm-level, they further relay messages to farmers and pastoralists for community awareness and response.
At the global level, FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS) has been alerting the international community through country briefs and its publication “Crop Prospects and Food Situation”.The FAO Regional Emergency Office in Eastern and Central Africa also regularly provides briefings on the food security and nutrition situation in the region.
Thanks to early warning systems, the governments in the region have been well aware of the developing situation, while specialized agencies have moved quickly in response to the changing threat levels.
Unfortunately, "slow-onset" humanitarian crises, such as the worsening drought in the Horn of Africa, generally receive less financial and media attention than other disasters and tragedies, such as the earthquake in Haiti or the floods in Pakistan. The protracted emergency situation in Somalia in particular, has been worrisome for a long time, with different parts of Somalia being in a humanitarian emergency situation almost continuously over the past several years. This probably has led to the latest warnings not being responded to, as they should have.
About 80 percent of people in the Horn of Africa rely on agriculture and pastoralism as their primary source of food and income. In the fight against hunger, it is essential that more focus be placed on restoring, protecting and strengthening the means of agriculture and pastoral dependent groups to continue their way of life and to increase their resilience to future climatic shocks.
Based on past trends, one US dollar spent on agriculture between now and the end of the year represents a savings of at least 10 dollars in humanitarian assistance for the following year. On the other hand, failure to protect the livelihoods of farmers and pastoralists during the onset—and for the duration—of a crisis can increase risk of disease, death and displacement as well as long-term risks of poverty that, in turn, generate the potential for humanitarian crises in future.
The next planting season in the Region is in October, if farmers can access improved inputs and land they will be able to harvest in January and February next year, we should not miss this opportunity as food emergency aid and support to agriculture are complementary in a crisis like this.
The provision of immediate agricultural assistance promotes stability and thus prevents food crises from worsening in these affected countries, while also limiting the negative impact of further reductions in food supplies. It also contributes to preventing displacement, unemployment, the sale of productive assets, the worsening of health indicators and dependence on food aid and other forms of relief assistance.
These outcomes can be achieved through a twin-track approach, namely to meet the immediate needs of vulnerable populations while building longer-term resilience, addressing all aspects of food security – access, availability, utilization and stability – to secure a sustainable longer term reduction in hunger and malnutrition.
In terms of on-the-ground support, FAO has been assisting local populations and governments with:
- rehabilitating water structures;
- distributing seeds, tools and other agricultural inputs;
- providing plant and animal disease surveillance and control;
- livestock destocking;
- animal vaccination campaigns to support pastoralists.
- supporting coordination of food and nutrition security strategies, conducting real-time analysis of changing conditions, and issuing timely reports of the current status of hazards, risks and vulnerabilities in the region.
Looking ahead FAO’s proposed activities will include:
- restoring the crop production of farmers through the distribution of appropriate
agricultural inputs and innovative approaches such as vouchers and seed fairs for the upcoming planting season.
- safeguarding the livelihoods and remaining assets of vulnerable small-scale herders through assisted sale of livestock, the timely provision of animal feed (fodder) and water to core breeding stock to avert the starvation and emergency treatment and vaccination of livestock to reduce infestation and disease.
- providing cash-for-work opportunities by temporally employing members of the vulnerable population as a source of much needed income to purchase food and contribute to increased resilience by rehabilitating productive infrastructure and precluding distress sales of productive assets.
Through its work, in partnership with governments, NGOs and other UN agencies, FAO coordinates ongoing drought-related interventions at the regional, national and community levels.
FAO is promoting disaster-risk reduction measures that can prevent the worsening of drought-flood cycles and other climatic shocks from deteriorating into humanitarian disasters. Strategies include helping people manage their water and other natural resources, improving water points, supporting rangeland management and providing livestock feed and fodder for pastoralists, and vaccinations for their livestock.
FAO is also assisting governments and local communities to adopt disaster risk reduction measures and providing cash vouchers for work activities to meet immediate needs and improve the resilience of vulnerable communities. Ultimately, FAO works on building the local communities ability to cope during a crisis, by helping them to help themselves.
Compared to 20 years ago, productivity in some parts of the region (for staple food crops per land area) has actually tripled, from one tonne per hectare to more than three tonnes per hectare. However, with rapid population growth, reduced arable land by subsistence farmers and migration to marginal lands, the deepening effects of climate change and continued economic marginalization of Horn of Africa economies in the global economy, pressure is being sustained on the Horn’s relatively scarce resources, there is now further pressure on increasingly scarce resources. The situation has been exacerbated by high local cereal prices, excessive livestock mortality, conflict and restricted humanitarian access in some areas.
Donor response to a food crisis is also often limited to relief and short term response, rather than long term projects that help to mitigate the crisis. The impact and the scope of emergency projects on breaking the cycle of food insecurity is therefore limited.
High international food prices particularly affect import-dependent countries, such as Djibouti and Somalia, whose cereal import dependency ratio is 100 and 60 percent, respectively. These countries, in order to fulfill their imports requirements and guarantee adequate availability of food, need to face a more expensive import bill. In the absence of policies aiming at protecting consumers, the transmission of high international food prices into local markets affects food access especially for the most vulnerable households whose purchasing power is then reduced.
Higher international fuel prices, resulting in increased transport costs, have also exerted an upward pressure on domestic food prices. From May 2010 to May 2011, domestic fuel prices have increased by 60 percent in Ethiopia, 38 percent in Somalia and 34 percent in Kenya. High cereal prices coupled with worsening livestock body conditions due to the current drought (that lead to decreasing livestock prices) are causing a substantial deterioration in the terms of trade for pastoralists, limiting their access to food.
The recently released FAO biannual Food Outlook for June 2011 states that global high and volatile agricultural commodity prices are likely to prevail for the rest of this year and into 2012. These global prices impact on the regional prices as the region imports food commodities to cater for the food deficits.
Current cereal prices in the region continue to rise because of increased demand and limited supplies. Towards the end of the year, temporary relief will be realized as the harvests come in, however the poor rains have caused poor crop development. This will, in effect, mean lower production resulting in food shortages and therefore prices are likely to remain high into early 2012.
Livestock prices in drought affected areas continue to drop as their body conditions deteriorate due to limited pasture and water availability. This will further diminish the household incomes of pastoral communities in the region, thereby limiting their ability to access food as the prices remain high.
High global fuel prices, rising domestic inflation rates and weakened local currencies (against hard currencies) will also further impact on the regional food prices.
Drought is a chronic hazard in the region, and has been for centuries. Pastoralism (and agropastoralism) is a dynamic and sustainable livelihood system that has adapted to the particularly harsh conditions in many areas of the HoA. However, given multiple stresses it needs support and diversification to reduce livelihood vulnerability. Drought triggers livelihood crises, but the underlying causes of vulnerability lie also in other factors, not just natural causes, and this is often to do with inadequate support to economic, social and political coping mechanisms. Conflict is also a major source of vulnerability. With the right support, the pastoral economy can thrive and contribute extensively to national economies in the HoA region.
The situation will get worse before it gets better. From July to September, the forecast indicates that dry conditions will continue across the Eastern Horn. Hotter than normal temperatures are expected in the coming months, and the water available for crop development remains critically low. This means:
- livestock mortalities will increase;
- migration of people will grow;
- risks of conflict over resources will be heightened ; and
- emergency levels of acute malnutrition will become widespread unless adequate measures are put in place.