Drought / East Africa / Ethiopia / Food Security / Kenya / Pastoralism / Somalia / Uganda / Vulnerability

Early famine warnings in Horn not enough: Early action also needed–Economist

Eastern Africa drought in Jul 2011

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) reports on emerging food security conditions related to drought and other climate crises (image on the ReliefWeb website by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the United States Agency for International Development Famine Early Warning Systems).

The first food to arrive in famine-struck Mogadishu, capital of Somalia, arrived two days ago (27 Jul 2011). An article in this week’s Economist describes why that food aid was 8 months late in coming.

‘. . . After the 1985 Ethiopian famine America’s aid agency set up a Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) to give warning of disasters. It has been forecasting a threat of famine in Somalia since November.

‘. . . FEWS Net conducted surveys across southern Somalia this month and found that malnutrition exceeded 38% in most areas—a catastrophic rate. Famine is likely to spread all over the south in the next few months (see map). About 2.8m people are thought to need immediate life-saving help.

‘Yet famine was not declared until July, eight months after the first FEWS Net forecast. . . .

‘Outsiders’ caution is linked to the role of the Shabab, an Islamist militia which controls much of southern Somalia and is locked in battle with the internationally recognised but feeble government. The Shabab has banned food aid in most of southern Somalia since 2009, branding Western aid agencies anti-Muslim. . . .

‘The Islamists are not the only local rulers ambivalent about the onset of famine. Ethiopia’s government will never admit there is famine in the country: to do so would be to say it had failed since 1985. Both it and Kenya’s government have responded to public pressure slowly.

Most of those affected are ethnic Somalis, nomadic herders and Muslims: marginal groups in both countries, with little political clout.

‘. . . FEWS Net may have predicted famine but nothing happened until television cameras showed up, beaming out pictures of fragile children arriving at the huge Kenyan refugee camp at Dadaab in large numbers. Aid officers worry about being criticised by the public and their own bosses if they spend scarce resources before there is an outcry. The result is that donors often ignore their own early warnings. . . .’

Read the whole article at the EconomistChronicle of a famine foretold, 30 Jul 2011.

View an Economist infographic about the East African drought and famine, 21 Jul 2011.

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