Friday, September 30, 2011

East Africa must prepare to survive | Duncan Green | Global development |

MDG : Horn Of Africa famine : IDP camp in Mogadishu, Somalia
People queue at a Mogadishu food distribution centre. Somalia's famine is a key factor in the UN's belief that east Africa needs $2.5bn in aid. Photograph: Dai Kurokawa/EPA

When it comes to natural disasters, and their very unnatural impact on poor people, prevention is better than cure. Yet this lesson seems incredibly hard to turn into practice. However good the early warning system in the run-up to disasters like the current crisis in east Africa, themoney to head off future suffering often doesn't start flowing until images of human pain hit the TV screens.

This is all the more frustrating because, as argued in a new paper by Oxfam's humanitarian policy adviser, Debbie Hillier, we know far more than we used to about how to do this preventive work (known in development jargon as disaster risk reduction, or DRR) and how much more cost effective it is than reacting after disaster has struck. While it is too simplistic to give an overarching cost benefit ratio (often quoted as 1:4 or 1:7), studies have shown time and again that good prevention saves lives and money. Protecting livestock is much cheaper than starting afresh once they have been decimated by drought: in the Afar region of Ethiopia, the restocking of sheep and goats is 6.5 times more expensive than supplementary feeding, while restocking cattle costs 14 times more. According to the International Federation of Red Cross, it costs around £3.50 a person annually to build up resilience, compared to £150 a person for relief assistance for just three or four months.

DRR also ensures aid and government investments remain effective. All aid - whether humanitarian, development, recovery or reconstruction - should be resilient to disasters. Otherwise, hospitals, schools, roads and water points (as well as livelihoods) can be damaged or washed away when a natural hazard strikes. Between 1997 and 2007, Ethiopia lost on average $1.1bn to drought every year. This almost eclipsed the $1.3bn in international assistance spent annually over the same period to tackle poverty and emergencies, and exceeded the amount Ethiopia invested in agriculture, a sector clearly crucial to ending food shortages.

So how can the current emergency response in east Africa reduce risk?

Water resource management

In Ethiopia, some communities that received emergency aid in previous droughts no longer require it; this is thanks to DRR. In the Liban district of Guji zone, a small-scale irrigation project pumped water from a major river, enabling pastoralist households to produce grain both for their own consumption and to sell at local markets. Women report that they no longer worry about their children and families experiencing milk and food shortages. In contrast to last year, and neighbours outside the scheme, the community no longer needs food aid and livestock have not migrated, because there is enough crop residue for them to eat.

Work programmes

Where cash- or food-for-work programmes are being implemented, the public works should boost DRR by focusing on vital communal assets, for instance improving rangelands or water harvesting.

Food availability

Where markets are working, providing support to traders to bring in essential food and strengthen delivery networks is essential, complementing cash-for-work schemes. Part of Oxfam's work in the current crisis has involved persuading traders to return to the worst-hit areas to get markets functioning again.

Herd mobility

Emergency responses should support mobility where possible, for example by providing mobile services such as healthcare or drinking water provision, and thereby promoting the sustainability of pastoralist livelihoods. A conflict-sensitive approach may also be required to ensure responses reach all vulnerable sections of the community and are negotiated with traditional leaders and across clans.

Veterinary services

Vaccination and other animal health interventions are important to prevent death and disease in the herd and strengthen livestock resistance to drought. Humanitarian response should use and strengthen the private sector in developing long-term, sustainable veterinary services.

Supporting community structures

Emergency interventions should work with and strengthen local organisations and community leaders, who are best placed to identify the most vulnerable and deliver aid where it is needed.

Preparation for predicted floods

Rains are expected from this month, and with them comes a significant risk of flash floods and disease. It is vital to undertake contingency planning for public health and veterinary services alongside the pre-positioning of essential supplies. This will help to prevent outbreaks of water-borne disease among people, and vector-borne diseases in animals.

But DRR is not just about overhauling responses to emergency. In east Africa, recovery plans must stretch to late 2012 and beyond. More fundamentally, the way we do long-term development work must also change. Looking at recent history, it is clear that any three to five-year rural development programme in east Africa will be subject to at least one drought. Yet drought is too often treated as an external factor, an exogenous shock that sits in the risks column of the programme proposal. It typically takes six months to get approval for a change to a EuropeAid proposal, so it is almost impossible to reallocate development funding once committed. Instead, drought should be incorporated into the programme design from the outset, allowing sufficient flexibility to change plans when it hits. So, for example, if a programme involves training teachers, it should also assess whether the school has sufficient water supplies or could provide extra school meals during the hunger season or drought.

The arguments for more substantial investment are persuasive, but contrast with dismal global DRR expenditure of just $835m in 2009, a mere 0.5% of total official aid. Spending in those countries now afflicted by drought and hunger shows similar patterns. A helpful first step would be to make humanitarian funding more long-term and flexible; it often has to be spent within 12 months. We know what to do, so let's start doing it

Will We Really Let 750,000 People Starve to Death? - Global Spin -

A malnourished child with tuberculosis is bathed by his mother in Banadir Hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia, August 9, 2011. A day later the child died. (Photo: Dominic Nahr / Magnum for TIME)

Are we really about to let three-quarters of a million people starve to death? The U.N. thinks we might. Figures describing the famine in Somalia from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) paint a consistent, horrifying picture. As of late September, hunger is besieging 12.4 million East Africans, with 3 million out of a total Somali population of 9 million living—if that's the word—in a state of famine. The disaster is peaking in southern Somalia where in August the U.N. said aid was reaching just 20% of the people. And things are getting worse. Without more help, said UNOCHA on Sept. 6, “750,000 people are at risk of death in the coming four months.” Privately, aid workers say it's already too late for hundreds of thousands of Somalis. Disaster was fast approaching on July 20 when the U.N. first declared a famine. We might have mitigated it if we had acted quickly and comprehensively. We didn't. We still aren't. More than two months later, the U.N. remains fatally short by $691 million of the $2.4 billion it says it needs to feed the starving.

Why should Somalia be different from Haiti or the Asian tsunami or the Kashmir earthquake—or even Live Aid, the West's response to a famine in neighboring Ethiopia 26 years ago which seemed to herald a new humanitarian age? Why, in fact, is it different from the U.S.-led efforts to relieve famine in Somalia in 1992 and 1993? Perhaps, as one U.S. diplomat speculates, Americans—the world's biggest donors—don't feel much like helping a place that thanked it for its efforts with Black Hawk Down, when 18 U.S. soldiers were killed fighting a Mogadishu warlord in October 1993 and two soldiers' bodies dragged through the streets, or which latterly has spawned an anti-American Islamist terrorist group, al-Shabab. Or perhaps, with Western economies tottering, the rest of the world is simply preoccupied with its own money problems.

(SEE: Stark, haunting photos of the humanitarian crisis in Somalia.)

These common explanations are unsatisfactory. The U.S. government has actually given the most to the East Africa appeal—$593 million by Sept. 27, according to UNOCHA —and the second biggest donor, with $267 million, is the debt-burdened E.U. Wealth, or lack of it, is actually a poor determinant of willingness to help. Take Kenya. It's a developing country whose average annual income is just $1,600 a year. It's also affected by the drought and it's hosting 400,000 Somali refugees. Yet hundreds of thousands of ordinary Kenyans have contributed a total of $7 million.

A more plausible cause of miserliness is leaders with a weak sense of social responsibility. Lack of concern is particularly marked in Somalia's former colonizer Italy, where the scandal-plagued government of Silvio Berlusconi has donated just $9.5 million. Just as bad are African governments. “African solutions to African problems” is a common refrain from Dakar to Djibouti today after decades of disempowering aid dependency. Somalia reveals it as empty rhetoric. In August, only four out of 55 African heads of state showed up to an African famine summit, and donations have been derisory. Nigeria, Africa's oil and gas giant, pledged $2 million (and has not yet delivered). South Africa, home to Africa's biggest economy and a ruling African National Congress (ANC) kept afloat for decades by the rest of the world during the anti-apartheid struggle, has handed over a mere $1.2 million of a promised $11.2 million.

The world's disgrace is doubled by how little assistance reaches those most in need. That figure of 20% of southern Somalis receiving aid describes not just a pressing need but also a woefully inadequate aid operation. The famine is rooted in years of drought. But during six days we spent in August recording the tight ball of dying that Mogadishu has become, photographer Dominic Nahr and I uncovered a more immediate and sobering cause: the war between al-Shabab and the official, U.S.-backed government, which has led to an aid block on southern Somalia. In addition, while some Western aid agencies proclaim they are nobly reaching the hungry and ask for donations to do more, we saw no Western aid worker—not one—even in Mogadishu's camps, which are outside al-Shabab territory.

Nick Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, believes there may be another reason we are letting Somalis die. He cites studies showing a media environment of ticker-tape TV, 2-minute radio bulletins and news via Twitter which make it “ever more difficult to engage in reflective, contemplative thought” of the kind the Somali famine requires. A University of California study suggests the Internet might also depress empathy which, says Carr, emerges “rather slowly in mind, hence can be short-circuited by distractions and interruptions.”

Of course, as Carr notes, if it wasn't for the Internet, we might know even less about Somalia. But that just makes it worse. We can't say later that we didn't know. We do know. We know some aid groups and some governments have reacted better than others. We also know that, wherever most blame falls, the world's overall response has been insufficient and hundreds of thousands of Somalis are about to die. We know that. And still we're going to

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Famine in the Horn of Africa: Be a Part of the Solution | The White House

Dr. Jill Biden on the Late Show with David Letterman

Dr. Biden and David Letterman refer to a map of Africa while discussing the Somalia famine relief efforts. (Photo from the Late Show with David Letterman)

Last Monday, the U.S. Agency for International Development, in partnership with the Ad Council, launched a public awareness campaign called “FWD” – standing for Famine, War, Drought - to draw the attention to the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa.

The campaign is calling on Americans to FWD the Facts. FWD them to your friends, FWD them to your neighbors, FWD them to everyone you know.

A few of the facts:

  • More than 13 million people are in crisis – making this the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.
  • More than 700,000 people have fled from their homes in Somalia to Ethiopia and Kenya – creating the world’s largest refugee camps.
  • 1 child is dying every 6 minutes in Somalia.
  • More than 750,000 people are projected to perish from starvation in Somalia within the next four months if humanitarians are not allowed access in to southern Somalia.

In addition to FWD the Facts, the campaign will feature TV and radio public service announcements (PSAs), a text to donate campaign, and a new website – The FWD campaign is all about getting people engaged in the crisis – to “Do More Than Donate” – and to learn about the solutions to the problem.

We know that it doesn’t have to be this way – famine does not have to exist. Through the President’s Feed the Future initiative the government is working to prevent future food crisis from occurring in the first place by investing in Africa’s agriculture development.

Dr. Biden visited the Horn of Africa region in early August to draw attention to the crisis, and met mothers who walked more than 100 miles seeking medical attention and food for their children. Last week, Dr. Biden spoke to David Letterman about her trip and encouraged Americans to get involved.

You can be a part of the solution. Small donations can make a difference between life and death for a child. But you can also “Do More Than Donate” – visit to learn more about how you can get involved.

Courtney O’Donnell is Communications Director to Dr. Jill Biden.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ethiopia government crackdown following aid investigation

Page last updated at 16:15 GMT, Thursday, 22 September 2011 17:15 UK

Ethiopia government crackdown following aid investigation

A joint undercover investigation by BBC Newsnight and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism last month uncovered evidence that the Ethiopian government is using billions of dollars of development aid as a tool for political oppression.
The team travelled to the southern region of Ethiopia where they found villages in which whole communities are starving, having allegedly been denied basic food, seed and fertiliser for failing to support Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
Now Newsnight has heard from members of the Ethiopian diaspora that the government is accused of a renewed crack-down on opposition supporters, politicians and journalists.
Angus Stickler reports, then Jeremy Paxman hears from International Secretary Andrew Mitchell.
Broadcast on Wednesday 21 September 2011.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

World Bank increases drought aid to Horn of Africa BBC News

World Bank increases drought aid to Horn of Africa BBC News -

A severely malnourished child from southern Somalia is held in a makeshift shelter at a refugee camp in Mogadishu, Somalia, 20 SeptemberA refugee camp in Mogadishu has been sheltering this severely malnourished child from southern Somalia

The World Bank has announced it is increasing funding for the drought in the Horn of Africa to nearly $2bn.

It says that the funds are needed to provide humanitarian assistance to millions of people.

The World Bank says countries across the region face one of the worst droughts in more than half a century.

The conditions, it says, are causing increasing malnutrition and food insecurity, and are displacing large numbers of people.

Over the coming years, the body will provide $1.8bn (£1.2bn) in assistance - nearly four times the amount originally pledged in July.

But it says there is still a billion-dollar shortfall to provide for the estimated 13 million people who are in need in Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia.

Providing humanitarian assistance to Somalis remains the biggest challenge because of its continuing civil conflict and the soaring cost of food, the BBC's Marcus George reports from Washington.

The UN has estimated that 10,000 people have died across the region and the crisis could get worse in the coming weeks.

Three Famines: Starvation and Politics by Thomas Keneally – review | Books | The Guardian

A starving child in Ethiopia in 1985
A hungry child in Ethiopia in 1985. Photograph: Rex Features

Witnessing famine comes as a visceral shock – the slow and silent evisceration of society, family and the human body itself. The Russian sociologist Pitrim Sorokin, survivor of the famine of the early 1920s in his home country, wrote in Man and Society in Calamity (1946) of starvation reducing man to "a naked animal upon the naked earth".

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His experience was of a communist famine, in which professors starved alongside peasants. More common is famine that singles out the poor. The economist and philosopher Amartya Sen, who lived through the 1943 Bengal famine as a young member of a prominent family that fed the destitute, opened his seminal bookPoverty and Famines (1981) with the observation that famine is the phenomenon of some people not having enough food to eat, not of there not being enough food to eat.

Thomas Keneally, the Australian novelist, writes vividly about the depths to which human beings descend during famines. His examples are Ireland, Bengal and Ethiopia, and there are similarities among the three. Keneally draws on scholarship and archives, and also witnessed at first hand the civil war and famine in Ethiopia and Eritrea in the 1980s, when he travelled with the rebels and saw the destruction inflicted by the then military ruler of Ethiopia, Mengistu Haile Mariam, who persistently sought to starve the civilian population of the rebel-held areas into submission.

The book is both reportage of starvation and analysis of how famine is made. The "politics" in his subtitle points to the fact that drought, blight and pestilence may be unavoidable but famine is a manmade phenomenon. This may be an elementary point, but it needs to be made time and again.

One of Keneally's most intriguing passages is his description of Charles Trevelyan, assistant secretary to the treasury in Whitehall in the 1840s. The Irish revile Trevelyan as the instigator of cruelly minimal relief efforts during the famine. An evangelical Christian, virtuous in his personal life, he was convinced that certain events were inevitable and of divine intent, though he admitted that it was "hard upon the poor people that they should be deprived of knowing that they are suffering from an affliction of God's providence". Trevelyan didn't visit Ireland during the famine but derived his policies from John Stuart Mill's laissez-faire principles of political economy and Thomas Malthus's view that famine was a necessary corrective to overpopulation.

Keneally writes: "The religiously devout Trevelyan considered murder a great wrong. It is sobering, then, to think that the deployment of convinced, virtuous intent … and an intense belief in a providential deity, could be almost as destructive as the malignity of a dictator such as Mengistu Haile Mariam."

In the case of Bengal, Winston Churchill shoulders much responsibility. As the Japanese were poised to invade India in 1942, he ordered the destruction of much of the Bengal fishing fleet and the stockpiling of food for the army, and was notably indifferent to the need for relief. The famine caused the largest loss of life on the British side during the second world war.

Independent India has not suffered great famines, and Sen has speculated that the real force for eliminating famine is the development of liberal democracy. Keneally is sympathetic, noting the suppression of democratic aspirations in all his three cases. Today's famine in Somaliacan certainly be attributed to the collapse of government and the absence of democracy.

Students of famine necessarily focus their attention on the bad news story, where starvation recurs. It is easy to overlook the 100-year trend, which is the elimination of famine from western Europe and its near complete banishment from Asia. Of the twenty 20 biggest famines of the 20th century, in terms of loss of life, just one (Ethiopia 1983-85) occurred in Africa. The other 19 were Asian and east European. The worst was China in 1958-61, the most recent that killed more than a million was North Korea in the 1990s.

Two huge factors in reducing killer famines are Asian economic growth and improvements in public service technology and infrastructure. Better transport for food and primary health care have minimised the biggest killers during famines, which were epidemic diseases. However, famines still persist in an era of globalisation. Most now occur in Africa, kill far fewer people, and are often associated with intractable civil wars.

Keneally makes passing mention of famines in Russia, China, North Korea and contemporary Ethiopia, accusing the Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi of being as much to blame as his predecessor. Notwithstanding the ugliness of Ethiopia's military operations against Somali opposition groups, surely Keneally is making an error here. Extreme poverty in Ethiopia is not the product of Stalinist policy but of the globalisation trap.

With its existing economic infrastructure and human capital, Ethiopia, like most African countries, simply cannot compete in a global market, but has been told by international economic orthodoxy to pursue policies aimed at doing exactly this. Although the heyday of doctrinaire structural adjustment and downsizing of the state has passed, western nations still preach the fundamentals of a single path to development, through integration into the global market. Is not the ghost of Trevelyan stalking Africa?

Alex de Waal is the author of Famine Crimes.