Blog - ECHO in the field

‘Doing business differently’ following the Horn of Africa food crisis

Children are the most vulnerable during crises. © Malini Morzaria EU/ECHO

Children are the most vulnerable during crises. © Malini Morzaria EU/ECHO

18/07/2012 – It is a year after the food crisis in the Horn of Africa (HoA) which affected parts of Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti, and where an estimated 13 million people were impacted by the worst drought in more than half a century.  The effects of the drought were further exacerbated by high food and fuel prices as well as the conflict and insecurity in Somalia, where the lack of independent access to needy populations heavily contributed to famine-like conditions in six regions of the war-torn country. 

In 2011, the European Union (EU) quickly moved to tackle the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa with the provision of €730 million in humanitarian assistance, of which €181 million came from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO).  The emergency aid was used to provide shelter, food assistance, nutritional services, access to clean drinking water, sanitation services, healthcare, coordination of the aid delivery and where possible, recovery of livelihoods.

The conflict in Somalia and drought in the Horn of Africa uprooted hundreds of thousands of people from their homes within the region.  Currently, over a million people are living in refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia; over 300,000 are displaced within Ethiopia and an estimated 1.37 million more have been displaced within Somalia, having fled insecurity or hunger.

Adow Aden is eighty one years old and lived in Laghboghol village, 60 kilometres south of Wajir city in northern Kenya.  He remembers the early days of the drought which affected his village. “I sought help from my relatives in Wajir town. It [drought] was bad,” he says. “I lost 12 strong female camels in the drought; only eight survived. I still cannot feed my family of six. I stay here and wait for food donations while my sons graze the remaining herd in a field about 20 kilometres from here.”

Droughts are a recurrent phenomenon in many parts of the HoA.  However, with climate change, a burgeoning population, more pressure on fragile natural resources, poor infrastructure and the lack of basic services in the rural areas of the Horn of Africa, each shock sends the communities into deeper vulnerability with limited means to prepare or cope for the next crisis.

Elizabeth Lokolio, a Community Worker and resident of Turkana district in northern Kenya explains, “Since 1992, there is a drought that comes every year that has made the pastoralist very poor.  There have been many response programmes in the last six years and this has not solved the problems of the pastoral communities experiencing the drought. We want a long term development effort that can be done by many actors; NGOs, [donor states] and [our] government so that there can be a long term solution.”

With this in mind, over the last five years, ECHO has committed €90 million to help communities better prepare for imminent droughts with the aim of building their resilience at the community level.

It is clear that humanitarian assistance – preparing for and responding to the crisis – alone cannot avert a disaster nor can it address the underlying causes of the impact on the population.  Decades of marginalisation and ineffective development policies in the dry lands’ require joint efforts for long-term inclusive resilience building approaches.

Kristalina Georgieva, Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response has visited the region already twice since the HoA crisis; pushing all actors to unite in their efforts: “After helping families affected by last year’s devastating drought, we must keep the momentum and achieve lasting long-term results with our aid. We need to work hand in hand when we move to the next phase, helping the people to build lives and economies that are resilient to the difficult conditions in the region.”

The EU’s ‘Supporting the Horn of Africa’s REsilience’ (SHARE) was born out of the 2011 HoA crisis.  With more than €250 million package, SHARE initially aims to boost resilience in the HoA by addressing recovery from drought: build on emergency interventions; strengthen the livelihood opportunities of agro-pastoral communities; improve public services and boost the response to crises. 

“Development is good resilience. The ‘recovery’ phase of SHARE lays the foundation for long-term development support” added Commissioner Georgieva.

SHARE is, with a longer term perspective, looking to improve, for example, land resource management; ameliorate the income opportunities for nomadic populations dependent on livestock; manage malnutrition cases to try to find lasting solutions for the heavy burden of   chronic malnutrition and look at durable solutions for protracted refugees and uprooted populations within countries and the region

While challenges in the Horn of Africa remain and there are growing humanitarian needs, the EU’s vision of collective action with communities, local and national governments, regional institutions, aid organisations and donors working towards ‘doing business differently’ is most definitely a step in the right direction.  Linkages between relief, rehabilitation and development is what the communities affected by recurrent droughts are urgently calling for.

By Philippe Royan
He works for the European Commission’s Humanitarian aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO).
He facilitates humanitarian assistance for the Horn of Africa, with a special focus on Somalia.

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