Drought / East Africa / Eritrea / Ethiopia / Food Security / Nutrition / Pastoralism / Somalia / USA / Vulnerability

Washington Post coverage of Africa’s drought/hunger crisis–From advice on livestock herding to presidential offers of partnership

Return to traditional agricultural approaches—William G Mosley
A recent op-ed in the Washington Post, on the topic of the drought and famine in the Horn of Africa, argues that ‘while reactions of grave concern over this unfolding tragedy are natural, its causes are not. . . . The semi-arid Horn of Africa and the entire Sahelian region—running just south of the Sahara Desert across the continent—have long experienced erratic rainfall. While climate change may be exacerbating rainfall variability, traditional livelihoods in the region are adaptable to deal with situations when rainfall is not dependable.

The dominant livelihood in the Horn of Africa has long been herding. Traditionally, herders ranged widely across the landscape in search of better pasture, focusing on areas as meteorological conditions dictated. The approach worked . . . . As farming has expanded, including in some instances to large-scale commercial farms, the routes of herders have become more concentrated and more vulnerable to drought. The change from traditional practices has also become detrimental to the landscape. . . .

Just as death from exposure is not an inherent result of a cold winter, famine is not a natural consequence of drought. Simply put, the structure of human society often determines who is affected and to what degree.

‘While the nations of the world must act immediately to address the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa . . . [m]any, including the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Rajiv Shah, have spoken about the need for a strategy to rebuild food security in the region.

‘The problem is that the USAID [United States Agency for International Development] plan for agricultural development in Africa has stressed a “New Green Revolution” . . . [but a] more realistic approach would play down imported seeds and commercial agriculture in favor of enhanced traditional approaches to producing food for families and local markets. . . .

‘The path to improved food security lies in improving time-tested local approaches, which are attuned to local environmental conditions.’

Read the whole opinion piece by William G Mosley, an American professor who formerly worked for Save the Children (UK) on food security issues in Africa, in the Washington PostBehind Africa’s famine, more than just drought Famine isn’t inevitable, 29 Jul 2011.

Somalia’s crisis of 2011 was planted following the country’s earlier famine of 1992—Nuruddin Farah
The same paper carries another opinion piece, this one by a native of Somalia, who argues that this famine is likely to be much worse than the last one in Somalia, in 1992. Somali-born novelist Nuruddin Farah lays responsibility for the current famine in his country on lack of appropriate action in the aftermath of the earlier drought/famine, when the Americans pulled out of the country, in 1993, following the death of 18 American military service members.

‘. . . Nearly 170,000 Somalis have arrived in the refu­gee camps since January, according to the United Nations. Yet the suffering humanity fleeing the famine is indicative of the catastrophe awaiting an even larger multitude of Somalis. I am talking about those who have stayed behind . . . . [H]umanitarian agencies are not allowed to reach these unfortunates. Access is being prevented by al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda-linked hard-line religionists who claim divine sanction—and who are declaring death on the cut-off hordes. . . .

‘After the United States left Somalia [in 1993], the rest of the world stood by, leaving the warlords to profit from their criminality. Al-Qaeda strengthened its presence in the country. . . .

‘If we had had foresight and acted upon it; if the Marines had disarmed the warlords; if the U.N. Security Council had issued arrest warrants for the warlords early on, stopping them from prolonging the failure of the state; if the Security Council had dealt with the warlords—who had denied millions of starving people access to food—decisively, in the same way it dealt with the genocidal regimes in Serbia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan, then al-Qaeda would not have established a secure base from which to plan terrorist attacks. Our country would not have been hamstrung by the enormity of our problem, nor would it have become the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. . . .

By the time drought is upon us, it is often too late. On my last visit to Somalia in February and March of this year, one could already see terrible times coming, a rainless season on the horizon. People were studying the arid desert winds for signs. . . . [I]n Galkayo, in the central region of the country . . . the wells had dried up, and wars were being waged over the right of the nomads to water their beasts.’

The writer of this opinion piece, Nuruddin Farah, is a Somali-born novelist who divides his time between Cape Town, South Africa, and Minneapolis, where he holds the Winton Chair in the college of liberal arts at the University of Minnesota.

Read the whole opinion piece in the Washington PostIn Somalia, new famine born of out of old failures, 29 Jul 2011.

Somali refugee horror story—Ahmedhashim Mawlid Abdi
The same paper carries a profile of Somali refugee Ahmedhashim Mawlid Abdi, who escaped southern Somalia with some of his family to Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp. ‘Famine and violence in Somalia pushed Abdi, a 40-year-old father of seven, to flee his country. On his way to the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya, his pregnant wife was raped in his presence and he lost a 7-year-old son to hunger, disease and exhaustion. . . . In an extended interview conducted in Somali with The Associated Press, Abdi describes the drought-ravaged region he and his family escaped and the plight facing him and tens of thousands of other refugees in camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.’ Read this story in the Washington Post: Somali man recalls horrors of jail, rape, death while fleeing country’s famine, 29 Jul 2011.

Trying to save the starving refugee children
‘. . . The children come in [to Kenyan refugee camps] with two types of malnutrition: marasmus, or straightforward starvation where the child is so thin its skin stands up in folds when pinched, and kwashiorkor, where the child has had food but no protein or nutrients. Habiba Dubow’s son Abdirahman is one year old and weighs nearly 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms). He should weigh 22 pounds (10 kilograms). . . . He is too weak to cry.

We walked here for 20 days after we lost all our cattle,” she said. “He got sick on the way.”

‘The kwashiorkor children often have peeling skin or sores, swelling of the limbs or stomach and reddish hair, like Hamud Mohamed Abdi. The 2-year-old also weighs only half what he should for his age . . . . His parents are rail-thin themselves.’ Read the whole article in the Washington Post: Nurse struggles to save starving Somali children at field hospital in Kenyan refugee camp, 29 Jul 2011.

Neighbouring Eritrea also suffering
The paper carries another story from the Associated Press about refugees crossing the border into Ethiopia from southern Eritrea. ‘Eritrea, a nation of 5 million people that borders Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti, has also seen failed rains and widespread food shortages. But its autocratic government, which faces international sanctions, refuses to acknowledge a drought has swept its territory. . . . Nearly 1,000 Eritreans arrived at a refugee camp in northern Ethiopia in July alone, officials said. . . .’ Refugees say ‘their families haven’t been able to buy food from the government for the last three months and that food prices have spiraled. Refugees said a goat is now selling for more than $200 and a cow nearly costs $1,000. Soldiers are paid about $30 a month. . . . On top of those problems, the country doesn’t receive foreign aid and is sanctioned by the U.N. because of human rights violations. . . .’ Read that whole story in the Washington Post: As East Africa faces famine, autocratic Eritrea suffers in silence as refugees flee, 30 Jul 2011.

Obama offers to partner African presidents in reducing the crisis
The paper also reports the US President Barack Obama met last Friday, 29 Jul 2011, with Alassane Ouattara of the Ivory Coast (he became president in April 2011 after sitting on the sidelines for six months because Laurent Gbagbo refused to leave office), and Thomas Boni Yayi of Benin, Alpha Conde of Guinea and Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger. Obama admitted that ‘the developing famine in eastern Africa hasn’t gotten enough attention from the U.S. and needs an international response in which Africa must be a partner. “We discussed how we can partner together to avert the looming humanitarian crisis in eastern African,” Obama said.’ Read the whole article at the Washington PostObama: East Africa famine hasn’t gotten attention it deserves from US, needs world response, 30 Jul 2011.

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