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Whatever the nature of the triggering event, disaster strikes because many people in the region are extremely poor and have little or no insurance in the form of food reserves or any type of asset protection. They have become increasingly vulnerable to disaster-triggering events because of rapid population growth in marginal areas, the increasingly degraded environment that results from overutilization of the fragile resources, an inability to diversify their sources of income and the difficulty of "escaping" to other areas because of political boundaries, conflict and sheer lack of opportunity for betterment. Misguided development programmes have often encouraged farmers and pastoralists to adopt productivity-enhancing practices that compromise long-term risk-avoidance strategies.

Despite decades of nationally and internationally funded development programmes in agriculture and rural development and sustained inflows of food aid and emergency relief operations, abject poverty, undernourishment, food insecurity and, periodically, famine still characterize the lives of a large proportion of the population of the Horn of Africa. The natural conditions in many parts of the region make life intrinsically difficult, and these conditions have been made worse by a shrinking and degraded resource base, combined with an expanded population. The economies of the countries are largely dependent on the agricultural sector and are weak, reflecting the failure of strategies and programmes to stimulate growth in the sector.

The fact must be confronted that the opportunities for dramatic improvements in the livelihoods of people living in the low-potential, marginal areas of the Horn of Africa are limited. It is a harsh natural environment where mere survival is an achievement. However, some opportunities to reduce the risk of famine and food insecurity in these areas are presented by modern technology, the adoption of a comprehensive approach that is more sensitive to the needs and potential of the area and an increase in the allocation of resources to these areas. The approach should aim to derive synergies between restoring the natural resource base and enhancing agricultural productivity.

It is clear that the problem of food insecurity in the Horn of Africa cannot be solved within the agricultural sector alone. It is a complex and multifaceted task in which knowledge systems, education, health, energy and infrastructure development provide the framework that will allow people to broaden their economic opportunities and increase their incomes. For this reason, it is essential that the UN agencies with different responsibilities take concerted action with the aim of assisting governments and other partners in eliminating food insecurity.

The overall diagnosis of the underlying causes of food insecurity was endorsed during discussions between the Inter-Agency Task Force on the UN Response to Long-Term Food Security, Agricultural Development and Related Aspects in the Horn of Africa and governments of the region (see Box 2).

Country consultations

The results

Senior representatives of government in prime ministers' and presidents' offices and in different ministries (agriculture, water resources, health, education, infrastructure, etc.) expressed their strong support for the work of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the UN Response to Long-Term Food Security, Agricultural Development and Related Aspects in the Horn of Africa. Common elements of the views expressed by governments are that:

  • The scale and depth of chronic food insecurity is much greater than published statistics suggest.
  • The main categories of food-insecure are: a) pastoralists and agropastoralists in arid and semi-arid areas, b) small, resource-poor farmers, and c) the urban poor.
  • The approach suggested in the Framework for Action, of building on local strategies and programmes for food security and the link with the PRS process, is crucial.
  • Conflict resolution, at the international and community levels, is a prerequisite for food security.
  • There is a need to consolidate and strengthen early warning systems and to make them more responsive.
  • There is a need to move from dependence on emergency relief assistance towards long-term development aimed at ensuring food security.
  • Improved governance is vital for implementing effective long-term food security programmes.
  • There is a need for well-defined long-term engagement by UN Agencies and donors.

The response of the UN Country Teams and Resident Coordinators was unanimously positive, endorsing the diagnosis of the causes of food insecurity and the main thrusts of the Framework for Action. In each country, the view was expressed that the initiative was timely and represented a unique opportunity for UN agencies to work together in addressing food insecurity as the most urgent problem facing the region.

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