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Somalia/People and Projects
East Africa Crisis: 6 months on
10 February 2012
Farming communities also lost their livelihoods
It has been six months since an acute food crisis was declared in the Horn of Africa. Caused by the failure of seasonal rains, conflict, inadequate aid and a failure to respond to early warnings, it is currently the worst humanitarian emergency in the world.
It has been six months since an acute food crisis was declared in the Horn of Africa. Caused by the failure of seasonal rains, conflict, inadequate aid and a failure to respond to early warnings, it is currently the worst humanitarian emergency in the world. 13.3 million people are in need of emergency aid across the region, with parts of Somalia - the epicenter of the crisis – hit by famine.
Despite the difficulties of delivering aid in war torn Somalia, conditions have gradually been improving in the region following the interventions of the UN and aid agencies including Islamic Relief. But the crisis is far from over and the situation could once again deteriorate.
How the food crisis started
Many communities affected by the drought are pastoralists. “Livestock, like goats and camels, are their main source of livelihood,” says Rianne ten Veen, an Islamic Relief aid worker. “But when the rains failed in late 2010 many of their animals died from starvation and they were left without their own supply of milk and meat. Farming communities also lost their livelihoods as the drought resulted in their lowest annual crop production in the last 17 years.”
With the loss of livestock and crops, food prices soared, leaving many of those who had lost their source of income unable to buy enough food to feed themselves and their families. The drought also meant that there was a lack of fresh water for people and their animals to drink, with rivers and wells – the main source of water for many communities - completely dry.
Agencies like the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) - which monitors food availability in countries in order to prevent potential food crises – and aid agencies began to highlight the situation from as early as August 2010. Despite their efforts, the funds readily available for the region from international donor governments were inadequate, and the media coverage of the impending disaster was largely absent.
“Even though we had been talking about the risk of an oncoming drought in the region for quite some time, and the risk it would pose to people’s lives, trying to get the public’s attention was difficult because there was insufficient media interest until large numbers of people started fleeing across borders in search of food and assistance,” says Shabel Firuz, Islamic Relief’s Head of Operations in Africa.
Impact of the conflict
Although drought is the most direct cause of the food crisis in Somalia the ongoing conflict has also played a significant role. The country has been in a state of civil war since 1991 after the overthrow of the regime of Said Barre by a coalition of rebel groups. Today, the Transitional Federal Government - which is based in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu – is in conflict with the armed opposition group Al Shabab.
The ongoing fighting has meant the UN and international aid agencies have found it difficult to reach Somalis in the south of the country; an issue that still affects the delivery of aid today.
Eventually, when conditions became too difficult to bear, hundreds of thousands of Somalis left their homes in search of food and water. They made their way - often risking death - to neighboring countries like Kenya, Yemen and Ethiopia. Many travelled to the Dadaab camp in Kenya, which is now the largest refugee camp in the world, host to some 460,000 people.
By July 2011, the UN had officially declared famine in Somalia – not only is it the first famine of the 21st century, it is also the first to have been declared since the famine in Somalia in 1992.
Responding to the crisis
The UN and various aid agencies responded to the crisis by delivering vital aid. Some agencies, like Islamic Relief, were already based in the region, supporting communities through water and livelihood projects designed to make them less prone to the effects of droughts - which are common in the Horn of Africa.
“Islamic Relief responded to the crisis through a number of ways. We delivered food aid to communities across the region; we provided health and nutrition supplements for malnourished children and nursing mothers; we also provided healthcare services, offering consultations and medicine to people suffering from the effects of the drought and famine”, adds Shabel Firuz.
“Islamic Relief has been of great benefit to us,” said Magalla Billow, a pastoralist who lives in Kenya and has been affected by the drought.
Magalla is a mother of seven, and before the drought her family owned 200 goats; now they only have ten.
“My husband is the main breadwinner. Before the drought he would sell the animals in the local market to buy other household items. However, now we are left to depend on help from Islamic Relief and other agencies,” she added.
More aid is needed
Across the Horn of Africa, the crisis is still afflicting the lives of millions. In Somalia, a total of four million people – almost half the population of the country – are in need of food aid, and famine conditions still persist in some areas, with 250,000 people currently starving.
Although recent seasonal rains in the region have eased drought conditions in some areas, the drought will continue to worsen in other parts of the region in the coming months, including Ethiopia’s Afar and Somali regions.
In Somalia itself, the rains – which have been particularly heavy this year - have caused a lot of damage, destroying crops that were recently planted and further reducing the ability of communities to provide for themselves.
“In the last six months hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved, thanks to donations from people around the world, but a great deal of work still needs to be done,” says Rianne ten Veen. “We need to reach those who are still at risk of starvation and help strengthen the resilience of those ready to stand on their own feet.”
10 February 2012
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