Long-term action plan for the Horn of Africa

The seven countries that make up the Horn of Africa

Millions of the world's hungriest people live in the Horn of Africa. Poverty, drought and conflict are all part of the landscape where some 13 million men, women and children are currently threatened by famine. There are no quick fixes for this appalling situation. Long-term commitment and concrete actions are essential if the world is not to fail these people.

When the severity of the current crisis became obvious in April 2000, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan created the Inter-Agency Task Force on the UN Response to Long-Term Food Security, Agricultural Development and Related Aspects in the Horn of Africa. The countries involved are: Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda.

These satellite images indicate the vegetation cover in Ethiopia and Somalia between 11 and 20 June. They are part of the Global Information and Emergency Warning System's (GIEWS) Database on Food and Agriculture for Eastern Africa. Monitoring vegetation cover and cold cloud duration in the Horn of Africa will be an essential part of preventing food shortages in the region.

The Database contains the complete series of images for the 2000 growing season. For Ethiopia click here. For Somalia click here.

The Task Force is chaired by FAO's Director-General Dr. Jacques Diouf and draws on the resources and expertise of ten UN agencies. At a meeting in Geneva on 29 June, the Task Force presented a Framework for Action to end chronic malnutrition in the region that was broadly endorsed by the UN Administrative Committee on Co-ordination (ACC).

The Horn of Africa has some of the world's highest levels of malnutrition. As Dr. Diouf said in his opening statement at the meeting: "Drought and conflict are the main causes which have exacerbated the problem of food production, distribution and access within an already difficult environment of fragile ecosystems, poverty, and sometimes poor economic performance and governance."

More than half the region's people survive on less than US$1 a day. Because of this, the Framework for Action focuses both on improving food security and on reducing poverty. To create lasting food security in the Horn of Africa, development initiatives will need to address a broad range of interrelated issues, including nutrition, health, sanitation, education and rural infrastructure development.

Recurrent droughts in the region have hit rural areas particularly hard, with pastoral communities the most seriously affected. In Ethiopia, for example, nomadic pastoralists have lost about 50 percent of their cattle and 20 percent of their sheep during the latest drought. Small-scale farmers living on the edge of subsistence are also extremely vulnerable to drought.

Ongoing military conflicts have made the food crisis in the region immeasurably worse. Money spent on weapons is money not spent on food production and long-term development. This discourages donors and has slashed official development assistance to the region by 40 percent since 1991. Countries now receive only US$15 per capita a year.

The Framework for Action proposes a ten-year strategy based on consultations with governments in the region, UN agencies and donors. The long-term goal is to free the countries in the Horn of Africa from their dependence on external assistance and to restore basic human rights to their people - especially the right to food. According to the Task Force's interim report, "preventing famine and achieving better livelihoods will take years and involve fundamental social transformation".

Although the region has seen some economic growth, this has not led to any visible benefits to the poor and hungry. The Task Force emphasizes that "governments and donors need to reassess their approach to addressing absolute poverty and food insecurity by providing more resources and targeting their assistance to the poorest communities, especially those living in the most neglected parts of the region."

Broadening opportunities to secure and increase household incomes is vital. For example, combining livestock with agriculture can increase food production and safeguard rural communities from drought and other crises.

The report states that each country in the Horn of Africa will require action-oriented policies that respond directly to the needs of the poor and hungry. For these development initiatives to succeed, they will need a high level of participation from local communities. The Task Force recognizes that this process will be a lengthy one, requiring "a long-term and reliable engagement, which spans many more years than the typical development project."

The Task Force's next major task is intensified consultation with the countries involved "to achieve an effective long-term programme of concerted action." After finalizing country strategies, the Task Force will submit its final report during the UN General Assembly next October.

3 July 2000

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