In 2011 the Horn of Africa suffered one of the worst food crises in recent years, affecting over 12 million people. Severe drought was compounded by conflict in Somalia and widespread displacement across the region. A key message to emerge was that more could have been done in response to early warnings of drought and likely food shortages in order to limit the effects of the crisis. Had funders given preventively – rather than responding after the full extent of the crisis had hit – much of the devastation could have been avoided. The eventual humanitarian response cost millions of dollars more than it would have if early preventative measures had been put in place. More importantly, delays in funding needlessly cost the lives and livelihoods of many thousands of people that could otherwise have been saved.
Figure 1: Funding response to Horn of Africa crisis
Another food crisis has now hit the Saheldue to the failure of last year’s rains and aid agencies are calling for an early response to limit the effects. We examine the context and complicating factors that led to last year’s crisis in the Horn of Africa, and emphasise the need for increased early funding to avoid a repeat of the levels of crisis seen in 2011.
The failure of two consecutive rainy seasons (Oct-Dec 2010 and Apr-Jun 2011) resulted in low crop yields across the Horn of Africa, leading to a reduction in labour demand as well as below-average livestock prices and increased livestock mortality.
Increasing food prices
Food prices across the region subsequently started rising in late 2010. The situation was exacerbated by increases in global food prices, particularly in areas that rely on importing large proportions of their food, such asDjibouti.
The price increases spread to other markets, including fuel, pushing many moderately food-insecure households over the edge.
Security restrictions on aid delivery in Somalia
In July 2011 the UN identified a number of key operational constraints that were severely inhibiting relief efforts. Of particular note was the limited humanitarian access to affected areas of Somalia due to ongoing insecurity and restrictions imposed by armed groups. In areas of Somalia controlled by al-Shabab the group had put in place aid bans on several agencies, preventing food from entering some of the worst struck areas of famine.
In south-central Somalia armed conflict, civil unrest, crime, extremism and piracy caused further problems in terms of aid delivery and relief efforts.
The refugee crisis
A quarter of Somalia’s population was displaced due to the war, and by July 2011 humanitarian organisations in Ethiopiaand Kenyawere struggling to cope with the vast influx of refugees. An average of 1,400 Somalis sought refuge at Kenya’s Dadaab complex every day, with the camp hosting over four times its intended capacity of 90,000.
The extraordinarily high numbers of refugees arriving in camps caused an entirely new set of problems. In the Dadaab camp there was a reported increase in sexual violence against women and girls, putting them at a higher risk of exposure to HIV/AIDS. Furthermore, due to a lack of space in the main refugee camp some 65,000 people had settled on the outskirts where access to basic services was minimal.
The Deyr rains – a blessing and a curse
Whilst the eventual onset of Somalia’s Deyr rains in October 2011 was welcomed for cattle and livestock production, the rains brought with them a host of other complicating factors, including:
- increased risk of hypothermia
- increased risk of outbreaks of water-borne and other diseases
- further displacement at camps inMogadishu, where temporary structures could not withstand the rain
- difficulties in aid distribution due to heavy rainfall
- disruptions in planting
- rising malnutrition rates in camps in and aroundMogadishu, placing further demands on already stretched relief efforts.
An inadequate early funding response from the international community meant relief efforts in the Horn of Africa were seriously restricted for the first half of 2011, with donor response only really picking up once the full extent and effects of the crisis had become all too apparent.
Crisis builds in the Sahel
As warnings mount of a crisis across theSahelthat could affect up to 15 million people, the failure of last year’s rains has already caused crop and food shortages and food prices have doubled in some areas.
Aid agencies acknowledge that the response to date has been better than was the case for previous crises and that lessons have been learnt following last year’s events in the Horn of Africa. However, there is still a long way to go before early response sufficiently meets the needs of the most vulnerable in an effective and timely way, and can prevent the levels of crisis witnessed last year. If governments and donors have really taken the lessons from 2011 on board, they need to demonstrate this by providing much greater levels of funding, and sooner rather than later.
The Global Humanitarian Assistance (GHA) programme will release its GHA Report 2012 in July. To pre-order a copy, please contact email@example.com.