A relief agency warns that failed harvests and high food
prices have pushed the Horn of Africa to the "tipping point." ActionAid says
millions face hunger and destitution in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Eritrea and
Djibouti; it says if nothing is done, the situation could "easily become
Yates, head of emergencies for ActionAid, spoke from London to VOA English to
Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the region being at a tipping point.
we mean is that unless the people get the help they need now they're really
going to fall into absolute despair – ultimately people could die or be forced
to move from their homes to survive. What we see at this point in any crisis is
unless you get the right help in at the right time, it takes much, much longer
to recover," he says.
The right kind of help.
Yates says, "It's very simply food aid. People need food to
get them through, but in addition, in some areas where wells have dried they
need water delivered…. Schools have been forced to close for lack of water. So
lots of people have lost their crops because of the late rains or failure of
the early rains. And so distributing seeds might allow some people to get a
crop in the rains that are happening now," he says.
also need assistance. "What you get when the animals are weak through lack of
good grazing and concentrated around water holes is that disease spreads very
fast. So getting vaccinations and medicines for animals and spraying to prevent
the increasing spread of army worm, the pest which are destroying crops," he
more, as the animals become weak their value sharply declines.
Soaring food prices make matters worse.
He says, "This simply compounds the vulnerability that
people face. If you're just living on a knife edge (and) are very poor and you
get a bad harvest, you might be able to just about survive, unless the price of
those basic foods has increased by 50 percent.
says emergency aid is probably needed for the next three to four months. But he
says longer term programs require more than food, such as "giving people more
opportunity for diverse agriculture, making sure that they can get crops. And making sure that there's better warning
of pests and things like this."
Over recent years, there have been
many calls and proposals for programs to help Horn of Africa countries deal
with a lack of rain or drought. Yet problems persist. Yates says, "I think in
these cases there's a multitude of reasons. First and foremost is a skewed
development pattern so that some areas are getting more development and others
less. So, we need the political will to focus on the most vulnerable areas and
very often those are much harder to work in. So, it can seem tempting to get a
better result with less money in one area. But that just increases the
inequality of development in such areas."