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

Hezbollah Chief Says Does Not Want War But Ready for One

VOA's Jerusalem correspondent reports that with an Israeli election looming and Hezbollah's involvement in Syria, neither side appears interested in a wider conflict More

Multimedia VOA SPECIAL REPORT: Despite Danger, Best US Minds Battle Deadly Virus

Scientists at America's premier biological research center race in military confinement to find effective drugs, speedier tests and a safe vaccine amid the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history More

Kurdish Poet Battles to Defend Language, Culture

Kawa Nemir's work is an example of what he sees as an irreversible cultural and political assertiveness among Kurds in Turkey 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.
Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unresti
X
Heather Murdock
January 30, 2015 8:00 PM
Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Mobile Infrared Scanners May Help Homeowners Save Energy

Mobile photo scanners have been successfully employed for navigational purposes, such as Google Maps. Now, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the same technology could help homeowners better insulate their houses and save some money. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid