[Dehai-WN] iss.co.za: From Drought to Famine in the Horn of Africa

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From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Thu Aug 25 2011 - 18:10:47 EDT

From Drought to Famine in the Horn of Africa

Lisa Otto, Intern, African Conflict Prevention Programme, ISS Pretoria Office

25 August 2011
The current famine in the Horn of Africa has again brought to our attention the interaction between climate change, food prices and extreme weather conditions on the African continent. The ever-present issue of food (in)security, particularly in the Horn of Africa, has been compounded by multiple interactions between successive seasons of very low rainfall, artificial food prices and political events in a region predisposed to food supply stressors. This is leading to the deaths of tens of thousands of people. Unfortunately, despite the current situation offering a grim warning about Africa’s future food security, there appears to be little concerted effort to find a lasting solution to this threat to human security.

The <http://www.iss.co.za/iss_today.php?ID=1342> World Bank​ reported in mid-August 2011, in its latest version of the Food Price Index, that food prices had risen by 33% overall since July 2010. The price of maize, an African staple crop, is 84% higher despite slightly higher crop yields on the continent; while sugar prices have risen by 62%. High food prices, coupled with the rising cost of oil, have driven inflationary pressures and created an acute problem in developing nations; and this is set to worsen with projections that yields for maize and beans will decrease by 20% and 50% respectively by 2090. In the Horn of Africa, the interaction of these pressures can quickly translate into famine, as history and the present food crisis well illustrate.

According to Oxfam, climate variability in Africa has exacerbated the vulnerabilities of the poor and further spurred price rises on the continent. Changes in temperature and rainfall in the Horn of Africa in particular, as well as increased incidences of extreme weather events, mean that certain crops can no longer be grown, while others are rendered more vulnerable. Bearing in mind the Malthusian theory, which holds that population growth will outpace food production, it is clear that access to food products is under increasing stress as a result of burgeoning population growth and rapid urbanisation. In fact, six billion people across the world rely on food grown on a mere 11% of the world’s land mass. For this reason the capacity of communities and states in the Horn to respond to stresses in terms of access to food is important, as it sheds light on how poverty and vulnerability are linked to issues of food security and climate change. Cases of poor governance and state failure, as in Somalia, can aggravate the implications of famine and food crises, by virtue of an incapacity to act.

The situation in Somalia has been further exacerbated by migrations to places like Mogadishu and neighbouring countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia, often resulting in resource conflicts, which have the potential to cause violence on both local and regional levels. Human security concerns abound in the region due to the mass migration of people from resource-scarce areas; and the impacts that a lowered quality and quantity of foodstuffs have on human health and the spread of diseases; along with the associated issues of increased incidence of violence and conflict, and the resulting escalation of political tensions.

What makes this more alarming in the Horn on Africa is that extreme weather events in the form of droughts are now occurring twice as frequently as they did in the past. In Kenya, drought-related shocks were evident in pastoral communities once a decade, but are now recorded every five years. In Ethiopia the situation is more desperate with droughts striking every one to two years, as opposed to every six to eight years as had been the case previously. Moreover, temperatures have increased between 1°C and 1,3°C between 1960 and 2006, accompanied by decreases in rainfall across the Horn – both factors that hold implications for crop yields.

The World Bank states that the Horn of Africa’s current famine is man-made and could have been avoided. Droughts are common in the region, yet issues of poor policy-making and capacity shortfalls as well as artificially high food pricing quickly escalate this phenomenon from drought to famine. Furthermore, while humanitarian aid has been used to save lives in the region, a culture of aid dependency, on the other hand, is curtailing the will and agency of local people to conduct subsistence farming and adapt their food production (as has occurred elsewhere on the continent such as in Burkina Faso). Aid dependency in the region has also limited the resolve of governments to address food security through applicable policy, small-scale agricultural initiatives and micro-financing schemes.

Although some denialists refute the implications of climate change on human security issues, it has become clear that the climate is changing, with specific variability being visible in the Horn, which impacts on the wellbeing of millions of people. Climate change, when occurring alongside socio-economic and political malaise, can have disastrous implications in a world without financial or human capital to draw on in times of severe need. In order to ensure peace, security and development in the Horn of Africa, an attitude of forward-thinking will be required, which anticipates threats and plans for them.

Malthus purports that ‘the power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race’. Death is indeed visiting the Horn of Africa, and the lives of nearly 12,5 million people across Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti hang in the balance. It is for this reason that decision-makers in the Horn should embrace the lesson that emanates from the parable of the boiling frog. If a frog is placed in a pot of boiling water it will certainly jump out; yet if placed in cold water which is slowly brought to the boil, the frog will fail to identify the danger, and subsequently be boiled alive.

In order to prevent this from being the case in the Horn of Africa, decisive action in the prevention of future food crises as well as having policy in place to deal with such crises when they occur, will be vital in securing the wellbeing of people in a region that faces potentially fatal environmental changes. Indeed, accurate climate projections and sound policy on adaption, mitigation, disaster risk reduction and the pricing of basic food items are needed in the Horn and worldwide, in order to mitigate risks attached to food security and climate change.



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