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UN to Create Safety Net for Horn of Africa


Two U.N. agencies are working on a plan that they hope will enable people in the Horn of Africa to keep their food supplies secure and to protect their livelihoods even in times of crisis. The joint initiative by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programs (WFP) aims to help millions of people in emergency situations. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The U.N. reports more than 70 million people in the Horn of Africa live in abject poverty. They face food shortages and remain vulnerable to natural disasters, such as drought and floods.

The U.N. secretary-general's special humanitarian envoy for the Horn of Africa, Kjell Bondevik, says many people in Darfur have become dependent on international support.

"The majority of these people find themselves caught in cycles of deprivation after emergencies, receiving insufficient assistance to enable them to recover their productive capacity and little or no long-term development support."

Michael Wales is the principal adviser in the investment sector of the Food and Agricultural Organization. He says the U.N. initiative aims to do more than prevent people from starving.

"I see things really rather than a safety net as a safety trampoline," he explained. "So, we ought to have something which will allow people to bounce back into productive livelihoods rather than simply maintaining them and preventing them from starving to death."

Wales says U.N. aid agencies are preparing concrete action plans both to help people cope with emergencies and to protect their assets through a combination of food reserves and cash.

"So, that instead of selling off all their seed, all their animals, their tools in order to feed themselves, we can find a way of helping them have a cushion or a buffer between the little they have and total destitution," he added. "When total destitution arrives, this is when the food aid is brought in. What we are aiming to do ultimately is eliminate the need for food aid."

The plan also envisions ways to help people protect their environment. These include giving people seedlings to plant trees, helping them to construct devices to harvest water and finding ways to protect their soil.

Officials of the two U.N. agencies say they will be holding workshops in the Horn of Africa to come up with, what they call, a road map to achieve food security. They say local communities will play an important role in devising the measures to be taken.

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