About 22 million people across East Africa are facing a hunger crisis, majority of them are children. 15 million people in the worst hit areas frequently go without a daily meal. In South Sudan a famine has already been declared. Soon parts of Kenya and Somalia will be famine disaster zones.
Already 700, 000 children in these areas are suffering acute malnutrition. The current drought is the worst since the historic 2011 drought which claimed 260,000 lives. With donors warning that the window for opportunity to avert a starvation crisis is closing, a grim situation lies ahead.
The various government and donor agencies are currently focused on sourcing funding and distributing food to the hard hit areas, a repeated short term solution. It is time as region, continent and world to proactively seek a permanent solution to the ongoing crisis.
The drought and hunger crisis is quickly morphing to an annual event yet through the years, the treatment has been the same with the results only growing worse. Data from UN’s International Fund for Agriculture Development shows that, we have had droughts in the years 2005, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2015, 2016 and now in 2017.
The need for a permanent solution has been recognized since the horrific famine of 1993 in Sudan. However, recurrent cases show we still rely on humanitarian aid for a crisis that is often predictable and even expected.
Recent steps point the picture that this region is learning from past mistakes. Discussions about the need to strengthen drought risk management strategies across the African continent have resulted in the proposal for the formation of Drought Resilient and Prepared Africa (DRAPA). The new strategic framework will focus on enhancing resilience to drought throughout Africa. The fear is the discussions are moving too slowly and even do not focus on the primary issues.
The climate factor of the drought is largely influenced by global warming. When coupled up with the La Nina cycle, it has resulted in drier conditions which have affected rainfall cycles in the region. This can be controlled by Africa as a continent strongly holding western countries to account for their share of emissions.
As a region and continent, an inclusive and integrated approach is needed to mitigate the effects of drought. All the areas which have been hit hard are located in conflict zones. Displaced people can hardly participate in food production activities. Worse, when they number in millions they place undue pressure in areas they seek refuge further exacerbating an already dire situation.
While East African countries do partner in infrastructure projects, they lack political goodwill in ending the regular wars hindering any efforts to pursue a permanent and sustainable food security policy. Land reclamation in arid areas as well as full food production in non-arid areas cannot go on due to consistent wars.
Until these conflicts are resolved in ways not disruptive to human settlement and food production, whenever drought hits, millions will be affected and thousands of lives lost. These very individuals displaced and malnourished would instead be actively engaged in ensuring their food security.
The governments are also at fault for failing to actively engage in efforts to bulk up food production to cushion the people in regions where drought hits hard. The recent multi-million dollar infrastructure investments are a stark contrasts to the budgetary allocations to drought mitigation projects and agricultural projects.
For several years and despite early warning, governments in these countries are always caught off guard resorting to appealing for donor funding and worse still relying on the relief agencies to distribute aid.
Several options are available to increase food production. Different research institutions have developed high yielding food crops as well as drought tolerant crops. What lacks is the mass implementation due to lack of sufficient government support. Other countries have achieved large scale land reclamation projects to increase available land for food production yet there has not been a consistent and well-funded effort by East Africa to implement this.
The struggle in raising adequate funds to combat the severe starvation on the short term points to the precarious situation in future years. As it becomes a problem to get even emergency relief funds more lives will be lost. These are lives which can be saved by the governments and political elite in various affected communities taking a proactive role in providing a stable climate where long term solutions can be pursued.
For millions to be facing famine on such regular basis in the 21st century is unfortunate. It is further immoral on the part of various stakeholders given developments made in other sectors. Food is the most basic of needs and a fundamental right. Until when we have capacities to mitigate drought ensuring its provisions to the most marginalized, all our progress in other fields will count for nothing.
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