Monday, August 29, 2011

Drought not the real cause of East Africa famine -

STORY HIGHLIGHTS Up to 12 million people in Horn of Africa facing famine Famines occur in places where people are tyrannized, says Thomas Keneally Famines occur in places where people get by on a few food items, he argues He says famine can only be addressed if it isn't only blamed on drought Author Thomas Keneally won the Booker Prize in 1982 for Schindler's Ark, later made into the film Schindler's List. His latest book Three Famines examines three historical famines and their causes. (CNN) -- Imagine if long-term drought were to strike a part of the rural United States, Wyoming say, or Montana. There would be bank foreclosures as the price of cattle would fall because there was too many of them on the market, families would tragically lose their farms, and grocery lists would be trimmed. But would people starve, actually waste away until their bodies began to devour themselves? In Southern Somalia, Djibouti, parts of Ethiopia and in refugee camps in Kenya at the moment, up to 12 million people, basically half a Canada, are facing death. In Somalia, the people already in crisis number about four million. Mothers, for example, are again making the Sophie's choice of how to share the small resources of remaining food amongst their children. And the tired old terms to explain it all are again repeated. The cause, we are told, is drought. The "caused by drought" formula is not only lazy journalism. We've heard that song sung so often in the past that it may now make us immune to the famine's claim on us. Certainly, drought is a trigger of famine. And global warming might be extending the length of droughts. But Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize-winning economist famously said that no substantial famine has ever occurred in a liberal democracy. I believe Sen is right. Famines occur in places where people are tyrannized over either by governments or, in the case of Southern Somalia, by private armies and militias. --Thomas Keneally Famines occur in places where people are tyrannized over either by governments or, in the case of Southern Somalia, by private armies and militias. They occur in places where even in the lead-up years to famine, farmers are not always able to plant crops with security, without the likelihood that they might be confiscated, or that the village granary will be burned by armies, private and government. Famines, above all, occur in places where people get by on a few food items. Though in the cities, including Mogadishu, Somalia, people might eat canned food and a range of other food, for farmers in East Africa, the normal foods are lentils and the bread made out of dhurra, millet or a grain named teff. Dr. Sanjay Gupta visits refugee camp If the grain crop is destroyed by drought or locusts or undue human intervention, there goes the chief nourishment. The coastal fishermen of Somalia are themselves reduced in what they can eat because the price of grain is escalating out of their reach. The semi-nomadic people who own cattle have a diet of milk and meat. The livestock die for lack of pasture, are stolen or have to be sold or eaten, and there goes life. In liberal democracies, as much under pressure as they might be at the moment, if one food source is removed from us, we have the ability to turn to another. Not so for the 12 million the U.N. has declared in immediate peril of starving. Why are people on Earth now, in the 21st century, still surviving on one staple -- just as the Irish did with the potato in the 1840s? --Thomas Keneally RELATED TOPICS Somalia Food Security and Hunger Ethiopia So the question arises: Why are people on Earth now, in the 21st century, still surviving on one staple -- just as the Irish did with the potato in the 1840s? Governments maintain unjust systems of land tenure, that is one reason. Governments put money into arms instead of into infrastructure -- into roads, for example, by which aid can easily transported, or into storage facilities. One is entitled to ask why, after all the development and emergency aid spent on Ethiopia, there is a food crisis there every time there is a drought? Is this a failure of rain or a failure of government? We see the above-mentioned "undue human intervention" in East African people's welfare in the fact that in the case of Southern Somalia, the Obama administration has had to give aid agencies a guarantee of freedom from prosecution even if some of the aid has to be given, virtually as a protection bribe, to the fundamentalist military group called Al Shabaab. Al Shabaab has preyed on the Southern Somalis year after year. Charities must pledge their best efforts to prevent Al Shabaab from hoarding food and charging tax on it. These realities of famine are as much, if not more, the cause of famine than natural disaster. In some cases it is misgovernment, and in the case of Somalia it is warlord-ism. The question arises, should this reality stop us from coming to the aid of our fellow world citizens in East Africa? In my opinion it makes it more urgent. As the old aid song from the 1980s goes, "We are the world." In the meantime we'll only learn to understand and address this deadly phenomenon if we stop citing "caused by drought" every time something like this calamity comes to our notice. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Thomas Keneally.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Lesson from 25 years of famine | The Great Debate

By Mark Malloch-Brown
The opinions expressed are his own.

Twenty five years ago, in the aftermath of a devastating famine in Ethiopia, remembered for better and worse for Bob Geldof’s Bandaid concerts, I wrote a book called “Famine: A Man-Made Disaster?” The question mark said it all. I ghostwrote the book for a group of African and other leaders who were more tentative than I was in declaring what had happened was largely the fault of African governments. So the great men added a question mark.

Yet while it was more convenient–not least for fundraising and handling a nasty regime in Ethiopia–to blame it on God and the weather, that famine was caused in large part by bad governance. A centralized regime in distant Addis Ababa, interested in its own survival, had little time for the development of far off rural areas where non-Amharic minorities were living. Its military background and Marxist pretensions also meant it had no interest in developing local food markets and viable peasant agriculture.

So the first big change is what has not happened. Most of Ethiopia and for that matter Kenya have escaped the famine not just because they were beyond the strict epicenter of the drought itself but because a long investment in rural food security in Ethiopia and a buoyant market economy in Kenya has enabled both to ride out sharply higher food prices.

It is no coincidence that the famine has taken hold where governance remains weakest in the region: northern Kenya where pastoralists are marginalized and have little voice in the capital, Nairobi; the Ogaden region, a similarly politically marginal area of Ethiopia, is struggling but in Tigre, the centre of the famine 25 years ago, a central government back in Addis led by Tigreans has built robust economic and environmental defenses as it has in much of the country. By contrast next door in Eritrea an unpleasant reclusive leadership may be hiding the extent of its failure to contain the famine.

The best example of why government matters is in Somalia, where there is no central government to speak of and the famine is principally in the area controlled by the ruthless Al-Shabab Islamic militia. By contrast semi-independent, better governed Somaliland and Puntland have weathered the crisis much more effectively. Following the logic that safety from famine follows good leadership and management it may be time for its neighbors and the world to hear Somaliland’scall for international recognition and independence. Its parent is a failed state that might do better broken up.

Whether it is terraced farming in Ethiopia, which conserves dusty highland soils that previously were blown or rained off the hill sides, or the extraordinary success of Bangladesh in recent years of cutting lives lost from tens of thousands to almost zero in the annual monsoons that flood down it’s funnel-shaped center, the examples of successful cheap disaster mitigation and containment are remarkable in poor countries.

Yet as man has found throughout his history, good management can only get you so far in a contest with nature, and today the affected famine region is facing the worst drought in 60 years or more. Man-made defenses might seem not to be able to prevail against the combination of climate change and local environmental degradation that are making populations in this area ever more marginal. Like in Niger in West Africa there seems a risk that this part of East Africa could lapse into an endemic famine situation with almost yearly food crises.

And there are factors beyond local African leadership control — such as climate change — that will continue to bear down disproportionately on a region like this because of the pre-existing vulnerability of its soil and weather. But there are other factors that are within local control such as farming models, particularly sorting out the balance between herders and crop farmers; soil and water management; financing inputs such as fertilizers, seeds and livestock; and the meta, too often unmentioned issue, of population growth.

Recent UN estimates suggest the comfortable assumption that Africa will quickly settle into the same demographic transition to smaller family size that has happened in parts of Asia as people move to cities and wages is off by a century or so, and thus also by many hundreds of millions of people. Even if in Nairobi or Addis Ababa family size does come down faster, in rural areas children as a source of farm labor will remain a good insurance policy in the eyes of parents. The extraordinary success of changing behavior and providing supporting medical services that has been applied to breaking the momentum of the HIV/Aids virus in Africa needs to be applied to providing women with effective family planning services and advice.

Critical to their delivery, as it has been to the HIV success, have been international development agencies. Since the era of Bob Geldof, they have labored against an ugly undercurrent that seems to believe that in a conspiracy with publicity-seeking celebrities NGOs invent famine to serve their own interests. And that these UN and NGO relief workers are much happier feeding the hungry forever rather than encouraging the self-sufficient development that will one day make their ministrations redundant.

Yet if there is one further happier factor amidst the tens of thousands of lives being lost in this tragedy, it is that NGOs and government agencies are mostly working with both a long term view of what needs to be done and with a deep understanding of local conditions. The best of these agencies are not carpetbaggers who fly in on the back of a fundraising appeal back home but agencies who have been engaged for decades in the region and most of whose staff are seasoned locals.

So whereas my first reaction to the tragic news of the famine was “Not Again,” the great news is that it isn’t. Where people are starving, and where they are not, is not just the luck of the weather, it reflects the fact that many leaders in Africa and beyond, although sadly not all, have learned from the last time.

PHOTO: An internally displaced woman holds her malnourished child inside a pediatric ward at the Banadir hosptial in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, August 22, 2011. REUTERS/Ismail Taxta

Sunday, August 21, 2011

BBC investigation Ethiopia 'using aid a
'Incredible generosity' for ABC East Africa Appeal

Thursday, August 18, 2011

'Green drought' hides hunger in Ethiopia

'Green drought' hides hunger
(CNN) -- Images of Ethiopia's leafy, green vegetation may not match everyone's idea of what a drought should look like but this is the other face of the catastrophe affecting millions in the region.
Long-anticipated rains may have fallen in parts of this landlocked country in the Horn of Africa, but they came too late to produce desperately needed crops.
"People are facing a serious food shortage, even though they're surrounded by greenery," said David Throp from children's development organization Plan International in Ethiopia.
"This year, the rains that allow seeds to germinate and crops to start to grow did not come. As a result, families were not able to harvest crops when they normally do," he continued.
The World Food Program (WFP) says it is assisting 3.7 million people in Ethiopia, mostly affected by drought, with up to 15 million people affected in the Horn of Africa as a whole.
People are coming here and it's raining, which makes the drought not as visible.
--Natasha Scripture, WFP Ethiopia
But the needs are very different region to region says Natasha Scripture from the WFP in Ethiopia.
"It's interesting during this crisis because people are coming here and it's raining, which makes the drought not as visible," she said.
"But drought is not necessarily the lack of rain, it can be a timing issue; if one cycle of rain is affected, as we saw with the short rains in February and March, the later rains will also be affected," she continued.
Rain in Ethiopia this year has been irregular and fallen at the wrong times -- for example this year's short rains didn't arrive until May. In order for crops to grow and flourish a full cycle of rain is needed, otherwise they can't be harvested and eaten.
Adanech Woyna lives near Shebedino, a small town south of the capital Addis Ababa. The 39-year-old mother of five told Plan International that she lost nearly all of her crops because the rains did not come on time.
"The maize plants are growing now, but they are far behind the normal season," she explained. "We are going to be dealing with these food problems until September at least, when we hope we can harvest this maize and feed the family."
Issa Kipera is acting country director at the agency; he says it is helping the farmers plant again in the hope that the rains continue.
One of the things we are trying to do is diversify the crops here...
--Issa Kipera, Plan International Ethiopia
But the rains could fail again. As well as assisting with the immediate needs of malnourished communities, Plan is looking at more drought-resistant crops for the future.
"One of the things we are trying to do is diversify the crops here so there are some crops that will produce in a short period and others that are drought resistant," Kipera said.
He explained that the agency is introducing crops such as sweet potatoes and Enset.
Enset is a type of Banana that's sometimes called a "miracle crop" because even if it gets a little rain it can still be harvested. It's also known as "false Banana" because it doesn't actually bear fruit; instead the root is used to make a kind of flour.
The agency says it is also looking towards honey production and is training farmers on how to process, harvest and sell it at market.
"This is also a drought-resistant product, so as long as you have the right beehives and technology it's viable, especially in green drought," Kipera explained.
In the meantime many farmers have to work as laborers to earn extra money as they don't have any crops to sell.
A woman called Bolgitu, also living near Shebedino, told Plan she's looking after twin babies, Kibiru and Kisu, while their mother collects food.
"The father of these boys is now working as a laborer in the village to make a little money to buy food. This year everyone is short of food," she said.
She added: "We've already been forced to eat our maize seed. Those seeds were our future. There's nothing to harvest. There won't be anything to harvest for several months."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ethiopians starve as more Somali refugees arrive — SOS Children

Ethiopians starve as more Somali refugees arrive

Aug 16, 2011 09:45 AM

The Horn of Africa’s food crisis has spotlighted Somalia and Kenya.

But as it struggles to cope with tens of thousands of famine refugees, millions of people in Ethiopia are starving.

About 118,000 Somali refugees are now seeking aid in camps in Ethiopia’s Liben region.

Nearly half arrived in the country’s south east, where it borders with Somalia, in the last two months, fleeing drought, famine and war.

The number of people descending has overstretched the Liben camps, which were originally built to shelter 45,000 people.

Soaring malnutrition is making things worse. Many children were already malnourished when they left Somalia, and during the long walk to cross the border — for some, it took as long as 20 days — their health has gone further downhill.

Ethiopia’s new arrivals are mostly women and children; a lot of them are so weak they die when they get there.

But unlike in Kenya, which at first could cope with its refugees, although it has since been overstretched for months, Ethiopia was unprepared to handle the influx.

At the start of March there were 38,000 refugees living in two camps. And now, the two original camps are at double their capacity, housing 40,000 each. It took three weeks to fill a third camp with more than 24,000 people, and now a fourth has been set up for the 15,000 or so arriving from a makeshift centre near the border.

"There was a much lower service provision in Ethiopia than Kenya,” said the UN’s Kristen Knutson. “There wasn't much infrastructure in place; then suddenly you had this enormous increase in the number of refugees coming," she told the Independent on Sunday.

As well as bad roads, the Ethiopian government has also stood in the way of foreign charities getting aid through to the people who need it. Aid agencies that have revealed the true extent of hunger in the region have been thrown out.

But this year, perhaps a signal of how serious the situation has become, the government is making it easier for aid agencies to work there.

"We see the reality as it is," said Bereket Simon, Ethiopia's Minister of Communication. “There are 4.5 million in need of aid. We have been trying to respond promptly, as well as the international community, but we are aware response has been largely inadequate," he admitted.

Swiss Agency for Development:- Interview with Martin Dahinden of the SDC about the future strategy of the Swiss agency. - swissinfo

by Etienne Strebel,

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) is enlisting the help of multinationals to tackle the age-old challenges of war, hunger and catastrophes.

Fifty years after the cornerstone of Swiss development work was founded, SDC director Martin Dahinden talks about how the agency is evolving to deal with a changing world.

The spotlight is currently on East Africa where tens of thousands of people each week are fleeing famine in Somalia to neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya. Conditions there are extremely difficult, Dahinden says. What effect do the terrible pictures of the famine in Somalia have on you?

Martin Dahinden.: The pictures and reports from the Horn of Africa upset me. When I hear about people who have died on the way to help centres, it makes me think how difficult it often is to raise small amounts of money to be able to deliver emergency help on the ground. How does SDC approach this problem?

M.D.: To see solutions is one thing. But to make sure that the solutions also are put into practice is something else. Switzerland carries on its humanitarian tradition and is committed. But our means alone are not enough to cover the phenomenal need in the region.

On top of that we have to think beyond short-term help: How we can stem the causes of this need, in particular the conflicts in the region? We have to see that the people get work and an income so that they can overcome the crisis. What is Switzerland doing in Somalia?

M.D.: For one thing Switzerland is active in its own projects. Apart from that Switzerland supports international organisations, first and foremost the [Swiss run] International Committee of the Red Cross. But also the World Food Programme and the UN High Commission for Refugees. These organisations try under extremely difficult conditions to protect people and carry out meaningful work.

Martin Dahinden
Martin Dahinden (Reuters) In the future SDC also wants to work more closely with multinational companies. Which ones?

M.D.: We live in a globalised world which is changing rapidly. New challenges are also coming to us in development cooperation that can only be solved with new partnerships.

That concerns countries such as India and China which are playing an increasingly important role in development cooperation.

It also concerns the private sector. Here we work together with internationally active Swiss firms such as Novartis, Nestlé or Zurich Financial Services. How do you benefit from this cooperation?

M.D.: The basis for this is common interest. Multinationals usually have skills, expertise, that are useful for us and that we wouldn’t otherwise have. For example in insurance.

Our contribution tends to be the exact knowledge of the situation on the ground and the people, who live in poverty. That is how the partnership works. Can you illustrate that with an example?

M.D.: Economic, income-building activities are often not carried out because they are too risky for the people concerned. Let’s take for example the risk of losing everything because of a crop failure. There has traditionally been no insurance option for developing countries in this area.

We have entered into a partnership with Zurich Financial Services relating to this. We try to develop solutions that address these specific risks and that at the same time are affordable for the people. It is not about selling existing insurance products.

We want to help make economic activities possible that create work and income for the people. Doesn’t it also have to be worthwhile for the insurance company?

M.D.: Yes of course. We have to look for solutions that are self-supporting and make it possible for us to withdraw. Incidentally the idea is not new. There were similar initiatives already in the Middle Ages when the first insurance companies were forming. Take for example the risk for a ship owner with one ship was too large so forms of insurance are developed to absorb the losses.

Still today this idea plays an important role among very poor people who can be much more strongly affected by a setback. Are there rules, that you require your multinational partners to adhere to?

M.D.: Yes. We do not work with partners who breach human or labour rights. We also participate in international initiatives with guidelines on sustainability, social responsibility and respecting human rights laws.

The most important of these is the Global Compact of the UN, which many multinationals are committed to. With that they are automatically under a certain level of observation. What do you think the future holds for development work? What will change?

M.D.: The world is changing and so is the topic of poverty. We will in the future have to work in even more difficult environments, that are marked by tensions and conflict. The battle against poverty in these regions has proven in recent years to be practically impossible.

We also have to deal with the new global themes: climate change, worldwide migration, food security, scarcity of resources – for example clean water. These problems are hardly solvable through isolated local projects. Therefore we will continue to be active in multilateral development work.

We have to develop operations which include developing countries to make them part of the solution. To this end we are working in an intensive exchange with other countries, with international organisations, NGOs and research.

These challenges will change the face of the SDC. But not everything will change. SDC has been an innovative and creative institution since its founding, that always worked very closely with the affected populations and understood their problems. This basic orientation will also be important in the future.

Etienne Strebel,
(Translated from German by Clare O'Dea)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

'Incredible generosity' for ABC East Africa Appeal - ABC Melbourne - Australian Broadcasting Corporation

16 August, 2011 4:22PM AEST

'Incredible generosity' for ABC East Africa Appeal

The ABC joined forces with Australia for UNHCR and launched the East Africa Appeal on Friday 12 August to raise funds for the people in the drought stricken region of East Africa.

Make a donation by calling 1300 440 433 or visit the East Africa Appeal and help spread the word while watching the donation tally rise on Twitter @ABCAppeal

At 5pm on Tuesday 16 August Australia for UNHCR confirmed $715,000 had been raised from the appeal.

Witness the developing crisis by watching the video above - thank you to Brendan Bannon/UNHCR for the images and Brisbane outfit the 'Band of Frequencies' (Owen (OJ) Newcombe, Shannon Carroll and special guest Angie Iimura) for their version of the Bob Marley & The Wailers track 'High Tide Or Low Tide'.

National Director for Australia for UNHCR Naomi Steer says the response from the public has been "overwhelming".

"We'd like to thank ABC listeners for their incredible generosity and the way that people have responded immediately to our calls for help, they can feel confident that their funds will be going to provide much needed practical help to people right now living in Somalia and people in camps across the Horn of Africa," says Ms Steer.

Not knowing what to expect from the appeal, Naomi says the much needed funds will make a difference at the cold face.

"The funds will provide vital and very practical support to people in refugee camps in Kenya, Ethiopia and also to people inside Somalia right now. The kind of support will be non food items supplies and will include tents for shelter, jerry cans for water, blankets and nutritional survival kits," says Ms Steer.

An extraordinary crisis, Naomi says every donation made will make a difference.

"In the refugee camps I know that my colleagues are still facing a tremendous uphill battle in providing the necessary resources to the numbers of people who are arriving daily. There is still a concern about the number of children who have trekked very long journeys from their homes in Somalia trying to reach safety, reach security, and get access to food. Reports are that people are still arriving in very poor condition, so we're hoping to turn that around with support from this appeal and other support across the world," says Naomi.

Donations can be made until Friday 19 August by calling 1300 440 433 .

'Scenario is very grim' in African aid camps

Ongoing conflict and the worst drought recorded in 60 years resulted in the UN declaring famine in parts of Somalia last month.

Hundreds of thousands of starving and malnourished refugees are seeking assistance in humanitarian aid camps, and an estimated 30,000 children have died in Somalia this year from malnutrition.

Camp Dadaab in Kenya, the world's largest refugee camp, is now home to 400,000 displaced people in need of food, clean water, shelter and medical help.

National Director of Australia for UNHCR Naomi Steer has seen the situation in Somalia first hand.

"With some estimates putting acute malnutrition rates as high as 50% in southern parts of the country, the scenario is very grim. Refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia are overflowing with new arrivals desperately seeking relief assistance. With an estimated 3.7 million people affected by the drought - that's one in every two Somalis - the situation is very bad," says Ms Steer.

Measles 'turn deadly' in refugee camps

UNHCR spokesperson Milicent Mutuli is in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

"Some of the children are now affected by an outbreak of measles; there are cases in all the camps and community workers have reported deaths... we'll be starting a vaccination campaign in the Kobe camp for all children under 15 years... they're extremely weak, extremely vulnerable and in addition there is malnutrition, which makes measles that is not usually a killer illness certainly turn deadly," says Ms Mutuli.

While the numbers of new arrivals are declining, there are many Somalis already in camps in Ethiopia.

"There are still over a hundred thousand people in the camps in Dolo Ado in south-eastern Ethiopia. Nearly 80,000 of these people have come in this year alone," says Ms Mutuli.

Urging people to donate to the East Africa Appeal, Milicent says "any financial contribution will help".

"We can ensure children are kept healthy, we can run vaccination campaigns and we can do nutritional feeding for the severely malnourished children... any Australian dollar will be very welcome," says Milicent.

Family members 'left to die' to save others

Caritas Australia spokesperson Scott Martin explains the desperate situation.

"The television images tell it all and we've seen it all too often, emaciated children, families with no livelihood or assets, they're hungry, some have had no water and they're trekking long distances to find somewhere they can be fed and settle," says Mr Martin.

But he says the will to live is strong.

"The human survival instinct is very strong and once people make it to the refugee camps and they are settled, they can access minimal food rations and clean water ... life in a refugee camp isn't comfortable but it is survivable. But part of the journey is getting there, and we've heard very disturbing stories of families who've had to make difficult decisions, such as, leaving family members along the way to die in order to allow the rest of the family a chance to survive and to make it to one of the camps for assistance," says Mr Martin.

African communities in Australia 'devastated'

Meanwhile Australian East African communities have been 'deeply saddened' by the loss of life in their homeland.

Founding member of the African Communities Council of Queensland and recipient of the Pride of Australia Medal Saba Abraham was a political refugee and spent ten years in an East African refugee camp before coming to Australia in 1992.

"There are no words to describe how terrible it is to live in a camp, there is no food, no water, no medication and the worst is you don't have any hope, no hope at all.

"I don't think there could be worse in life, when a child is dying of starvation in its mother arms and the mother cannot do anything," says Ms Abraham.

Living comfortably in Australia, Saba says many East Africans living in Australia are watching on in horror as famine grips the region.

"I feel hopeless, it's very bad, because I can eat, sleep and drink water... I can get everything I need here but on the other hand I'm seeing African families suffer so much.

"I would like to ask any human being to try their best to help rescue the children... the only hope they have is from us, from people who live in peace, like in Australia," says Ms Abraham.

Donate to the East Africa Appeal

The ABC East African appeal will run until the 19 August.

You can help save lives by donating to Australia for UNHCR by calling 1300 440 433 or visit the East Africa Appeal or the UNHCR website - Spread the word and watch the donation tally rise on Twitter @ABCAppeal

Or make a donation at your preferred aid agency, or at one of the agencies listed below that are responding in East Africa.