Horn of Africa: An emergency in slow motion

The famine in the Horn of Africa is a result of the international community’s failure to end Somalia’s civil war and its inability to deal with “slow-moving emergencies”, such as the region’s recurring drought, a senior African official said on Monday.

Millions of Somalians are on the brink of starvation. We take a look at some of the worst-hit areas and the aid camps that are struggling to deal with the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

In an interview with Reuters, African Development Bank (AfDB) President Donald Kaberuka called for lasting solutions to end the vicious cycle of drought and famine in the region.

More than 10-million people have been affected by the worst drought in 60 years in the Horn of Africa, which has affected northern Kenya, south Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti.


“This should be the last drought of this magnitude,” Kaberuka said.

While the immediate focus should be on saving lives through humanitarian efforts, more lasting solutions are needed to avert recurring food crises, Kaberuka said.

This could be addressed through direct economic support for more stable parts of Somalia, and developing a plan to encourage more regional food trade to keep prices lower and ensuring adequate water storage to help local herdsmen protect livestock during dry months, he said.

“Development institutions must come to the table with an integrated longer term plan for the region and we will play a big role there,” said Kaberuka, a former Rwandan finance minister now in his second term as AfDB chief.

Kaberuka said he was in talks with the East African bloc Igad, the Intergovernmental Authority for Development, made up of Kenya, Uganda, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea.

Collective failure
“The immediate urgency is to save lives, and humanitarian organisations are doing what they’re supposed to do, but now time has come to find a long-lasting solution,” he said.

“Markets are not functioning because of insecurity and also because of poor infrastructure,” Kaberuka added.

Somalia has been gripped by political violence and civil war since 1991 when dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown.

“It is largely about our collective failure to end the Somali civil war,” Kaberuka said during a visit to Washington.

But he said engaging with Somali militant group al-Shabaab, which controls the drought-stricken southern parts, was “a stretch”, and what was needed was to strengthen support for the African Union Mission for Somalia, or Amisom, an African regional peacekeeping mission in Somalia.

“Amisom is there and they’re doing their best but they need to be given greater political and logistical support to bring peace to Somalia” from both Africa and the international community, he added.

About 3.7-million Somalis risk starvation in two regions of south Somalia controlled by al-Shabaab, which has blamed food aid for creating dependency. In 2010, it ordered the World Food Programme to leave and expelled three aid agencies, accusing them of spreading Christian propaganda.

The group has accused the United Nations of exaggerating the severity of the drought and politicising the crisis.

Kaberuka said al-Shabaab was “playing a high stakes game with human lives” and was losing credibility among Somalis fleeing across the border into Kenya. – Reuters

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Lesley Wroughton
Lesley Wroughton works from Washington. I write about U.S. Foreign Policy for Reuters based in Washington. Opinions are my own and retweets are not an endorsement. Lesley Wroughton has over 1577 followers on Twitter.

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