Drought / Drylands / East Africa / Food Security / Pastoralism / Vulnerability / West Africa

Extreme hunger in East Africa and the Sahel: Building response systems that work

Arid soils in Mauritania

Arid soils in Mauritania, where crops have failed because of a severe drought and the Sahel region faces a major food crisis: Over 700,000 people are affected in Mauritania and 12 million across West Africa (picture credit: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam International).

Senegalese singer Baaba Maal has visited Mauritanian communities at the center of the current food crisis in the Sahel. Low rainfall, poor harvests, a lack of pasture and rising food prices are among the key factors driving this crisis, which now affects one in four people across the country.

Andrew Wander, media manager for humanitarian emergencies for Save the Children, writes in the Guardian‘s Poverty Matters Blog that ‘forewarned is not forearmed’ when it comes to dealing with slow-onset food crises.

‘After the hunger crisis that engulfed east Africa last summer, there was plenty for the world to think about. After all, we’d been warned it was coming—the first alerts of a potential crisis came the previous year. But not enough was done to avert it, and we now know that failure cost tens of thousands of lives and millions of dollars in aid money. . . .’

The good news, Wander  says, is that ‘despite the bleak forecasts from both east and west Africa, progress has been made. Governments, UN agencies and NGOs are acutely aware of the need for change and are actively seeking improvements in how we respond to hunger. We’re on the ground earlier, more funding has been made available by donors, and journalists have been covering the story of the growing crisis in west Africa since January. In comparison, previous seasonal hunger crises in the Sahel have never attracted attention before the summer—there’s no doubt that more is happening earlier this time round.

‘But it is not enough. . . .

‘In east Africa, we are in danger of seeing the improvements from last year wiped out by poor rains, failed crops and ongoing conflict. Parts of Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya are always vulnerable to hunger. After last year’s horrors, millions of people are especially vulnerable and, like last year, the money for preventive work is not there. Without funding, those people could find themselves facing a second summer of extreme hunger.

‘So why can’t we fix this broken system in time to stop crisis in the Sahel and east Africa? . . .

The hard truth is that pictures of starving children give donors an instant justification to release significant amounts of money. Predictions of starvation, however accurate, do not. . . .

‘The truth is that for many people, giving to crisis appeals is an emotional response, not a logical decision. . . .

‘But change is a process. It will take time, and there’s a long way to go. The lives of thousands of children depend on us completing the journey, and building a system that works.’

Read the whole article at the Guardian‘s Poverty Matters Blog: Extreme hunger in East Africa and the Sahel: forewarned but not forearmed, 9 May 2012

One thought on “Extreme hunger in East Africa and the Sahel: Building response systems that work

  1. Hi Susan,
    Maybe we should do a piece on how the HoA TC is part of a donor and government supported process to change this?

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