Acting early to prevent humanitarian emergencies

New evidence that early interventions reduced the impacts of 2017 drought in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia

26 July 2018, Rome – Intervening early in countries predicted to be hit by natural disasters can prevent threats from becoming humanitarian emergencies, or can mitigate their impacts, according to a new report released by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today.

For every $1 FAO spent on early livestock interventions in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia in early 2017, as herders braced for another harsh drought, each family saw benefits worth up to $9 due to less animals dying of hunger and disease, and producing up to three times more milk.

Herders were also able to better safeguard their future as losing their animals would be like losing their life savings; it would fuel a dangerous spiral of poverty and the reliance on much more expensive emergency assistance.

Investing in early interventions is key as natural disasters are on the rise

In the Horn of Africa, weather has become more and more unpredictable. One drought follows another, robbing poor communities of their limited possessions, and leaving them increasingly more vulnerable. Globally, natural disasters strike nearly five times more often than four decades ago.

“Investing in early interventions is not only humane and smart, it is also cost effective. Protecting livelihoods before disasters strike means greater resilience to future shocks, and less pressure on strained humanitarian resources,” said Dominique Burgeon, Director of FAO's Emergency and Rehabilitation Division, Strategic Programme on Resilience.

“Acting early is crucial and possible, and it is also the responsible thing to do. There is mounting evidence that the earlier we respond, the greater the capacity of communities to cope,” added Burgeon.

The benefits of acting early

Early 2017, when rains failed again, FAO quickly mobilized to come to the aid of thousands of most-at risk herders.

FAO’s early interventions focused on: distributing highly nutritious emergency feed for key breeding animals; providing veterinary services to keep animals alive and healthy; rehabilitating water points and installing water tanks; and delivering training on livestock best practices and management of livestock markets to government officers.

As a result, in Kenya, on average two more animals were saved per pastoralist family compared to those who did not receive assistance; each child under five in the programme drank about half a litre of milk more per day, which represent a quarter of the daily calories and 65 percent of the daily protein needs of a five-year-old.

At the peak of the drought, herds assisted by FAO were not only surviving, but were strong and producing three times the usual amount of milk. Families who received assistance reported that their animals were in much better health and condition. 

For every $1 FAO spent on livestock interventions for each family, the family had a return of $3.5. When the cost of avoided food assistance and restocking were added, the return on investment ratio increased to $9 per family.

On the other hand, Kenyan herders who did not benefit from early assistance were forced to sell double the number of animals as prices slumped from $80 to $30. They also killed nearly triple the number of their animals, both to eat and to lessen the burden of feeding them.

In Somalia, it cost about $0.4 to provide veterinary treatment to a goat, and $40 to buy a new one. By treating over 1 million animals belonging to nearly 180,000 people in the worst hit areas of Somaliland and Puntland, FAO’s interventions helped herders save over $40 million, and the milk was enough to nourish 80,000 vulnerable mothers and children.

These activities also helped kick-start a large-scale and effective famine-prevention programme. Overall, FAO assisted more than 7 million Somalis.

In Ethiopia, for every $1 FAO invested in protecting over 100,000 animals belonging to some 60,000 people in the worst hit areas of Somali region, each pastoralist family gained $7 dollars in benefits.

FAO helped pastoralists in the Horn of Africa to protect their core breeding herds, which in turn allowed them to keep their children healthy and in school – an important investment in their future.

Photo: ©FAO/Luis Tato
Samburu pastoralists have their goats vaccinated with support from FAO, Kenya.