"Too little, too late." That's the phrase that's often been used to describe the international response to the famine in the Horn of Africa, where more than 12 million people need food aid because of a severe drought.
But what can be done now?
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Halima Hassan comforts her severely malnourished son Abdulrahman Abshir, 7 months, at the Banadir hospital in Mogadishu. Photo: Getty Images
What will it take to mitigate the impact of the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in parts of Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Djibouti?
And what can be done to ensure a disaster of this scale doesn't happen again?
What can be done now
One who is getting help ... Aden Salaad, 2, at a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kenya, where he is being treated for malnutrition. Photo: AP
* More aid money
The United Nations said last week that, of the $2.4 billion it has requested from donor countries to tackle the crisis, it has received only $1.1 billion, or 46 per cent.
* Where will the money go?
The money is being used to provide people with basic needs - food, shelter, water supply and sanitation, Andrew Hewett, the executive director of Oxfam Australia, said. Importantly, the aid is also being used to try to keep people where they live presently, rather than have them move towards refugee camps that are already overflowing.
"The next rains are not due until October so people are going to be at risk in the next three months, assuming the rains arrive in October," Mr Hewett said.
"So we've got to try to keep people alive and focusing on those basic needs and getting the resources in to cope."
UN agency the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) was trying to keep people on their drought-stricken farms by paying them cash for small jobs as, once they left their farms, they became very dependent on aid for a long time, a spokesman for the FAO, Luca Alinovi, told the Associated Press.
* Managing the conflict and maintaining dialogue with militants
Somalia has been without a stable government since the early 1990s. A protracted conflict within the country - involving at different times Islamic militants such as the al-Shabaab, the armies of regional countries and the Transitional Federal Government - has left local pastoralists, farmers and others cut off from aid agencies and struggling to move from place to place during periods of drought.
United Nations representatives said last week that the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), a peacekeeping force that was launched in 2007 and staffed by troops from neighbouring countries such as Uganda, needed more military and financial support from the UN Security Council in order to help guard food convoys travelling within the country.
Marc Purcell, executive director of the Australian Council for International Development, an umbrella organisation for Australian aid agencies, added that maintaining political dialogue with countries such as Somalia, through international bodies such as the African Union, was essential to help keep humanitarian corridors open. Such dialogue was often placed in the "too hard basket", he said.
* Sourcing food aid locally
Food aid is essential to save lives, but, if some of the food brought into the five countries was sourced in other parts of Africa, rather than flown in from Western countries, it would help build local markets, Mr Hewett said.
"Much of American food aid is dispatched from the United States. What that does is effectively subsidise American producers and it misses out on the opportunity to help build up local capacity, strengthen local markets and encourage production at the local level," he said.
"And it misses the opportunity to make sure the food aid that is delivered is cultural appropriate."
* Regulating excessive speculation in agriculture commodities
One of the reasons that the food crisis in the Horn of Africa is so acute is because of soaring food prices. The price of sorghum, a staple food, has risen by 240 per cent in south-central Somalia in the past year, Mr Hewett said. The price of maize has also risen by 20 to 40 per cent from last year.
A key reason that prices are soaring is because of speculation in agriculture commodities, Deborah Doane, director of the World Development Movement, told the BBC in June.
"If you are in a developing country, what we're seeing is a big connection between the money that is flooding the commodity market and the actual price that you pay for your loaf of bread, for your wheat, for your corn on the ground.
"It's the world's poorest that are seeing the worst of this."
* So what can be changed?
Mr Purcell said governments such as Australia and other G20 developed nations can work together to limit speculation in basic food communities, and so keep prices from soaring out of the reach of the poor.
How can we stop this from occurring again?
* Increasing investment in African food production
There are parts of Africa that are known to face chronic food shortages, and so are very sensitive to even small fluctuations in harvest yields, Mr Hewett said.
If smallholder farmers and pastoralists in these areas are given more support - such as through helping them plant hardier crops and getting cheaper inputs into their farms, as well as improving their access to disaster risk management tools and insurance programs - this gives them a better chance of coping with droughts or other natural disasters, he added.
* Easing rural African poverty
This seems like an ambitious task, but through an increased investment in physical infrastructure, future generations of Africans may be able to get out of the vicious cycle of drought, conflict, famine and poverty, Mr Hewett said.
That would include building up grain reserves to counter volatile prices, constant social assistance (rather than assistance only in a major crisis) to poor households so they can access food at all times of the year, and an insurance scheme (sometimes cash, sometimes food) that kicks in when there is a humanitarian situation.
* Educate the young, especially girls
This lack of education starts from the basics - such as knowledge about family planning and the need to wash hands to limit the spread of diseases, said Norman Gillespie of UNICEF Australia.
So in developing countries where more than half of the population is below 18, even a few years of education for a young girl can change how soon she has children and how many she has.
"As you get more children into school and as you empower more girls, the social fabric starts to change," Mr Gillespie said.
"She'll be more empowered, she's got a voice, there will be less of that cycle and pattern of how women are just really the workers and the producers of babies instead of being part of the democratic process."
Satellite imagery was already showing last year - soon after the rains failed to fall from October to December, coupled with data on rising food prices - that a severe food shortage was on the horizon, but the international community failed to act quickly to prevent the crisis from becoming a full-blown famine, Mr Purcell said.
Part of the problem, he said, was the international community was more effective at responding to sudden and catastrophic disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis, as seen this year in New Zealand and Japan, rather than for "slow onset disasters" such as drought.
Attention from international governments and media was mobilised very quickly for these calamities, whereas aid agencies were less equipped to respond to the unfolding disaster in the Horn as it shifted from malnutrition to famine, especially since many of them had limited access in Somalia due to the conflict and knew little about what was actually happening on the ground, Mr Purcell added.
He said that could change through diplomatic efforts by members of governments sitting on regional bodies or larger international ones to maintain constant dialogue with states placed in the "too hard basket", such as North Korea, Burma and Somalia, so that their populations would have contact with and can be monitored by local and international aid agencies.
So what can Australia do?
Mr Purcell believes Australia, which recently became an observer at the African Union (AU), can help to encourage countries in the region to open up their humanitarian corridors.
The key, he said, was long-term political attention that went beyond the current emergency.
"[Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin] Rudd has been rapid in responding on this particular instance and his type of energy can assist in getting other countries to react," he said.
"And it's not just about monetary resources, it's about having bodies like the AU intercede with al-Shabaab or warlords to guarantee humanitarian access."
Both Mr Purcell and Mr Gillespie believe concerted and long-term political persistence and action would help prevent such a crisis from recurring, the way it has this year after the famines in Somalia in the early 1990s and in Ethiopia in 1984-95 (which killed nearly 1 million people). In the past five years, east Africa has experienced two other food crisis - in 2006, 11 million were hit by drought; in 2009, more than 20 million were affected by drought.
"There is evidence that the humanitarian community does learn from each crisis and that prevention is working more effectively," Mr Purcell said.
"In Bangladesh, the humanitarian workers have really worked to reduce the number of people killed in cyclones and we are seeing a massive drop in the tens of thousands of people affected in the past 20 years because of investments in disaster reduction.
"Of course some people will despair but what's the alternative? The alternative is turning away and that is not an option."
The Marxist policies of Mengistu Haile Mariam, which he began abandoning in 1990 with some economic reforms, left a country ravaged by economic decline, famine and regional conflicts that consumed half the state budget. In 1984-85, in the famine, up to 1 million Ethiopians starved to death.
For months in 1984, Mengistu denied the devastating famine in Ethiopia's north. Aid workers later recalled he flew in planes loaded with whisky to celebrate the anniversary of his revolution, as hunger deepened.
Bob Geldof, after watching pictures of the famine, organised Live Aid in 1985 to try to alleviate the hunger. Watched by 1.5 billion people, it raised $100 million for Africa's starving.
Population size: 9.3 million (UN 2010)
The United Nations said on July 18 it had started airlifting food aid to rebel-held parts of drought-hit Somalia and that Islamist insurgents had abided by a pledge to allow relief workers free access.
About 10 million people are affected in the region, dubbed the "triangle of death" by local media, that straddles Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. Somalia has had no effective central government for two decades, worsening the impact of recurring droughts.
Series of reports by Fairfax's Matt Wade and photographer Jacky Ghossein, who travelled to the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya in July.