News / Africa

Experts Look to Past for Clues to Prevent Famine in Horn of Africa

Internally displaced Somali women queue to receive food-aid rations at a distribution center in a displaced persons camp in the Somali capital Mogadishu, on July 26, 2011
Internally displaced Somali women queue to receive food-aid rations at a distribution center in a displaced persons camp in the Somali capital Mogadishu, on July 26, 2011

As famine threatens areas of Somalia and other parts of the Horn of Africa, food security experts are looking for lessons from severe droughts of the past, when worst case scenarios were avoided.  Their examples range from recent years to pre-colonial times.

Food security experts say Africa's famines have become more frequent as the world economy has grown more connected.

Human environment and development geographer William Moseley of Macalester College in the northern U.S. state of Minnesota, says that before late-19th century colonization, many people in Africa had more effective coping mechanisms to deal with recurring droughts.

"At the community level or the household level, they would store grain.  And a big change with colonialism is the introduction of cash crops and more export orientation and less saving of grain.  So we begin to see more famines linked to drought in the colonial period," Moseley said.

After a drought-induced famine across Africa's Sahel region in the early 1970s, the World Food Conference in 1974 promised that within a decade no child on the continent would go hungry.  Warning systems were put in place to forecast devastating droughts.  But in the 1980s, deadly famines hit Uganda and Ethiopia.

Experts say the warning systems failed to take into account that having enough food in a country does not prevent famine when large segments of the population are blocked from it due to conflict, or are too poor to afford it.

After those realizations, the international response to a major drought in southern Africa in the early 1990s was considered a success.  At the time, William Moseley worked for the British-based group, Save the Children UK.

"They knew that rainfall was poor and that was having an impact on crops.  But they also collected market information, so they were tracking the prices of food going up and they knew about people's income levels from a variety of livelihoods.  And so there was advanced warning; food was delivered early or it was already in the warehouses of national governments," Moseley said.

Food security experts also say it is crucial that drought victims receive aid before they sell off their assets.  If they are forced to do so and they do not receive immediate aid, experts say food prices need to be low to avoid a crisis.

Nairobi-based researcher Marcel Rutten of Leiden University in the Netherlands says this happened for Kenya's drought-affected southern herders in 2009.

"The pastoralists who sold some of their cattle or were able to sell some of the hides were able to buy maize at a relatively cheap price.  Currently, that is another major problem the northern pastoralists are facing.  The price of maize and other grains has tripled over the last year, which is, of course, an extra burden for them," Rutten said.

Experts agree the current volatility and speculation surrounding food prices is making famine prevention much more difficult.

Rutten cautions that as long as early warning does not translate into early action, an African drought can easily turn into a famine.  He says this increasingly is the case for vulnerable pastoralists for several reasons, including the overuse of rivers, deforestation and the reduction of grazing areas by large-scale farms.  Rutten points out that some of these farms are being developed for projects such as exporting flowers or producing biodiesel fuel sources, not food.

As for other recent successes, Frederic Mousseau, policy director with the California-based Oakland Institute, points to West Africa, where the governments of drought-stricken Niger and Burkina Faso and coastal Benin have discussed allowing the cross-border movement of struggling herders.

"It was done through international negotiations involving governments to allow the borders to be opened because, unfortunately, there were limitations to the movement of cattle.  So helping such movements was recently important in the last crisis in West Africa, and it is really thinking out of the box for aid workers and politicians who really think in terms of delivering relief," Mousseau said.

In the current situation in the Horn of Africa, Mousseau says the best practices to be applied are limited because most of the help began arriving late.  Most challenging, he says, is that the worst of the drought has been in areas of Somalia controlled by al-Shabab insurgents, whom the United States considers terrorists.

"There is no magic bullet.  So we are going to have to use traditional ways of responding to emergencies - with food aid, with emergency nutritional programs, with water trucking.  We need to set up camps and increase the capacity of existing camps, especially in Kenya.  So the good practices now will be to urge donors to help United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations and governments to set up rapidly an emergency response to the current crisis," Mousseau said.

Food security experts say it is also important to get victims out of camps as quickly as possible once they are saved, and give them cash, seeds and livestock, so they can quickly return to their livelihoods when the drought ends.

You May Like

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs