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

Multimedia US Defense Secretary: Iraqi Forces Lack 'Will to Fight'

Ash Carter criticizes Iraq's reaction to Islamic State; National Security Advisor Susan Rice echoed Carter's concerns in an interview on CBS More

Boko Haram Surrounds Havens With Land Mines

Chad and Cameroon say huge numbers of land mines planted by Boko Haram fighters along Cameroon's border with Nigeria are a danger to people, livestock and soldiers More

Women Peace Activists Cross Korean DMZ

Governments of Koreas give international delegation of women peace activists permission to pass through heavily fortified border, but some critics say symbolic crossing only benefits Pyongyang 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs