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

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

US Urges Taliban to Stay With Afghan Peace Talks

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll 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.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs