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1.Food insecurity in the Horn of Africa and its causes1

The scale and impact of food insecurity

The Horn of Africa is one of the most food-insecure regions of the world. In the seven countries of the region 1 that are members of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), out of a total population of almost 160 million, some 70 million people (around 45 percent) live in areas that have been subject to extreme food shortages and the risk of famine at least once every decade over the past 30 years. Some 13 million people are currently judged to be in need of relief assistance 2 and are the target of a US$378 million interagency appeal for emergency relief, which resulted from an assessment carried out by the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to the Greater Horn of Africa, the World Food Programme's Executive Director, Ms Bertini in April 2000. During the past three decades, while on a worldwide basis there has been ample food for all people, major famines have occurred in the Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia. In 1984/85, people in all countries of the region experienced life-threatening famine, and the two major famines in the 1970s in Ethiopia and Eritrea led to massive loss of human and livestock life. In East Africa as a whole, 42 percent of the population is undernourished, and the figures for Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia are among the highest in the world. Chronic undernourishment is reflected in a very high incidence of stunting among children and in low life expectancies. Child undernutrition, especially among those aged between six and 24 months, is particularly damaging in that it results in a life-long reduction in physical and cognitive abilities.

Drought and conflict are the main factors contributing to vulnerability to extreme food insecurity. Apart from the southern areas of Uganda and Kenya, the highlands of Ethiopia and parts of equatorial Sudan, most of the region has low and unreliable rainfall. Some 350 million ha, or 67 percent of the total land area, is classed as hyper-arid, arid or semi-arid. 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. This is caused by a failure to ensure "access by all people at all times to sufficient food, in terms of quality, quantity and diversity, for an active and healthy life without risk of loss of such access"3 . It is the contention of this report that, through the combined efforts of the people of the region, the concerned governments and the UN system, it should be possible to eliminate famine and bring about significant reductions in all manifestations of food insecurity.4 This will, however, be a challenging and complex process because it implies tackling the many underlying and interacting causes of food insecurity

It is the poor, who generally have least access to natural resources, entitlements, employment opportunities and income, who are the most chronically food-insecure. They are also the people who are most vulnerable to acute food insecurity when external shocks, such as droughts, floods or migratory pests result in shortages and concomitant food price rises, exacerbating the poor's already precarious situation.

Acute food insecurity is usually triggered by more or less widespread catastrophic events that tip large numbers of already poor and chronically food-insecure people into a situation in which there is little or no food available for them. Seed stocks are eaten and wild plants may be the only source of food until relief supplies arrive. In pastoral areas, drought decimates herds and, because of a collapse in livestock prices, people are confronted with reduced capacity to trade with those selling grain at inflated prices.

In four of the countries of the region,5 average per capita dietary energy supply (DES) is substantially less than the minimum energy requirement, with Somalia estimated as meeting only 74 percent of its requirements (1996). Since 1974-76, there has been a downward trend in the availability of food supplies in the region. For example, in 1995-97, the supply of pulses was only half its 1974-76 level. Despite advances in national food production, and some productivity gains in the higher rainfall parts of the countries, the incidence of food insecurity has not declined and it is estimated that around 42 percent of the people in the region are undernourished. It is because chronic undernourishment is so widespread that even relatively small drops in food production can have devastating effects. Even in the worst famine years (1972/73, 1984/85 and 1999/2000), many observers believe that aggregate national production was not reduced by more than 6 to 7 percent on the long-term average. Health and nutrition indicators confirm this broad impression of chronic undernourishment in the region, even in years when there is not a drought. For example, the mortality rate among children under five years of age is more than 200 per thousand in Somalia, while in Ethiopia there has been a deterioration in nutritional status, with the incidence of stunting among children increasing from 60 to 68 percent between 1983 and 1995/96.

The 1999/2000 crisis has demonstrated the fact that pastoralists 6 - who amount to between 15 and 20 million people altogether - are particularly exposed to drought risks. In such situations, they stand to lose a large part of their main productive assets - their livestock. In Ethiopia, most victims of the crisis are pastoralists, who have lost an estimated 50 percent of their cattle and 20 percent of their sheep. In Somalia some 60 to 70 percent of pastoralist communities have been affected, and there have also been heavy losses of livestock among the pastoral people of northern Kenya.

Although the acutely food-insecure can be identified and mapped,7 as each crisis occurs, it is more difficult to pinpoint those who are chronically food-insecure (see Map 1). They are to be found scattered across the region, their dire situation caused by different factors in each country and even among and within households. The old, infirm and very young, as well as women in general, tend to be disproportionately affected by food shortages, both acute and chronic. Many of the small, resource-poor farmers living on the edge of subsistence in the higher rainfall parts of the region, and are far greater numerically than the pastoralists, are chronically food-insecure and also vulnerable to external shocks. Their vulnerability is caused by rapid population growth, which has placed extreme pressure on scarce land resources, and a lack of access to the assets and technologies that are needed for intensifying production. Such vulnerability is also to be found in remote areas where there is limited access to markets for inputs or outputs.

Areas with chronically food-insecure population

While the majority of the food-insecure live in rural areas, food insecurity is also emerging as a growing urban phenomenon in the major cities of the region. Rural-urban migration, itself fuelled by rural deprivation and conflict, has led to a breakdown in traditional coping mechanisms and to widespread unemployment. Social services are often minimal with high death rates from preventable diseases. There is a high incidence of single-parent families, and poverty and hunger drive social problems such as street children, prostitution, child workers, substance abuse, crime and violence. Although it is often difficult to obtain precise estimates of the numbers involved, it has been estimated that more than 50 percent of the population of Nairobi (2 million people) is food-insecure, while the 2 to 3 million long-term displaced people in and around Khartoum are in constant need of food aid, and there are similar numbers of urban poor in Addis Ababa.

The impact of famine and food insecurity can be looked at from both the humanitarian and the economic standpoints. It results in many human beings having shortened life spans and living in a state of life- and health-threatening deprivation, constantly on the brink of disaster. The economic growth of the countries of the region is also being seriously constrained because large proportions of their populations are unable to contribute their full potential to economic activities as a result of the cognitive and physical disabilities resulting from chronic undernutrition.8 When famines occur, they contribute to a massive depletion of natural assets (especially livestock) and divert resources away from potentially more productive uses.

1 For the purposes of this report, the term "region" means Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, the Sudan and Uganda.

2Figures from the mission of the UN Special Envoy to the Greater Horn of Africa indicate the following numbers: Ethiopia 7.8 million, Kenya 2.7 million, Eritrea 0.4 million, Djibouti 0.1 million, Uganda 0.2 million and Somalia 1.2 million.

3 Food security has been defined in these terms in the Plan of Action of the World Food Summit.

4Food insecurity can be transitory, at times of crisis, seasonal or chronic, when it occurs on a continuing basis.

5 Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

6People who derive more than 50 percent of their income from livestock.

7 For example, using WFP's Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (VAM)..

8 J.-L. Arcand. 2000. Malnutrition and growth: the efficiency costs of hunger, draft paper for FAO, July 2000.

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