30 March 2009, Nairobi/Rome - In partnership with FAO and civil society, the European Union (EU) is working to address the underlying causes of hunger in the Horn of Africa. A crisis flared up this year due to a toxic mix of drought, soaring food prices, conflict and population growth. But long term solutions are required.
Despite good crop prospects foreseen in December 2008 and with showers providing relief in parts of Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia that had suffered from repeated failed seasons, the UN's latest Horn of Africa Crisis Report, issued on 6 February 2009, warned that an estimated 19.8 million people are in need of emergency assistance in the Horn of Africa.
This may seem contradictory. But one season of fair rains is hardly enough for those most affected, the Horn's pastoral people, who have suffered heavy losses of livestock over previous droughts and need more time to replenish their herds.
Moreover, if you scratch the surface of the current crisis, tough challenges appear, such as population growth and conflicts over limited resources, which have made people in the Horn of Africa — one of the driest parts of the world — ever more susceptible to shocks like last year's soaring food prices and climatic vagaries.
A falling ratio
"In order to survive, pastoralists need a minimal number of livestock per person, and the ratio has fallen well below the recommended four to one," says Lammert Zwaagstra of the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO), who leads EU efforts to help communities in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda lessen the impact of failing rains.
Zwaagstra explains that population growth has put the biggest stress on the livelihood of pastoralists, adding that more frequent and more severe droughts, attributed to climatic changes, compound their plight. With more people competing for fewer cattle and less water, the rise of conflicts among pastoralist communities, as registered over the past years, seems almost inevitable.
In 2006, ECHO started the three-year Regional Drought Decision (RDD), a € 40 million programme aiming to prepare pastoralists across the Horn of Africa for failing rains and to encourage communities to find solutions before that happens.
Making water available
Throughout the region, ECHO works with FAO and non-governmental organisations, both international and local, "making water available where there was no water before," as Zwaagstra puts it. Traditional wells are being rehabilitated, cisterns and dams constructed, and water points are being mapped to help communities' quest for water.
Attention also focuses on livestock, the mainstay of pastoral life, through vaccination campaigns, trainings in animal health and, in the case of emergency, off take. Moreover, given the context of increased tribal clashes over resources, ECHO assists communities in conflict prevention.
The magnitude of the programme's geographic coverage, as well as the diversity of activities and the partners involved, made FAO a natural partner to ensure its coordination due to its technical resources and capacity to bring together governments, international organisations and civil society, according to Zwaagstra.
Preparedness is as important as emergency relief, says Daniele Donati, FAO's Senior Emergency Adviser for Africa, underlining the significance of ECHO's initiative in aiming to tackle the root causes of hunger in the Horn of Africa. "This region will always suffer droughts," he says. "It is time to reduce people's exposure to it."