Drought / East Africa / Eritrea / Ethiopia / Food Security / Kenya / Pastoralism / Vulnerability

Where people are starving, and where they are not, reflects more on African leaders than on the climate–Mark Malloch-Brown

Tigray, Ethiopia

The landscape of Tigray, Ethiopia, which was the centre of famine in that country 25 years ago but is now managing to remain food secure due to years of agricultural and other investments (photo on Flickr by hhesterr).

Mark Malloch-Brown is in good, and candid, form in an opinion piece in Reuters published yesterday.

‘. . . [T]he 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. . . .

‘[O]ther factors that are within local control . . . [include] 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. . . .

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.’

Read the whole article at Reuters: What we’ve learned from 25 years of famine, 26 Aug 2011.

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