No time to lose says East Africa crisis summit

Mrs. Farheya Ahmed, a refugee from Somalia, walked for weeks while pregnant to escape war and famine. Photo by Laura Sheahen/Catholic Relief Services

Caritas Internationalis Policy Director Martina Liebsch reports on a ministerial level meeting at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome about the drought in the Horn of Africa.

The outgoing director of Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Jacques Diouf had called the emergency meeting to address the food crisis in East Africa.

The country most affected is Somalia – everyone agreed – but the crisis affects also parts of Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and has a spillover effect as people from Somalia are forced to migrate in the search of food.

Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the WFP was one of the speakers on the High Level Panel. She had just came back from a visit in Dadaab camp in Kenya, which she described as unacceptable. Many people reach the camp after walking six weeks in search of food. Women had to leave children who were almost dying for the sake of saving their others. She also pointed out that if action is not taken soon we might lose a generation as malnutrition heavily affects a child’s development.

The meeting was chaired by the French government as current G20 president and attended by representatives from key countries, such as Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, and major NGO’s.

The meeting was unusually emotional. Some of the speakers recalled the fact that not long ago in an FAO meeting in 2008 there was a commitment that there would never be a famine again. The director of IFAD, a UN funding agency for agriculture, said he was praying that this conference would produce results.

With a very emotional voice, the representative from Norway referred to the shock his country is in and then highlighted its commitment to help in this crisis. His prime minister has said in response to the recent bomb attack and shooting in Norway that it is imperative to work on more democracy and more humanity!

The facts around the crisis were put on the table by all the speakers on the panel:

  • A fierce drought over a vast territory
  • 11 million people affected, the most vulnerable being pastoralist communities, women and children
  • The increase of the food prices (per 200 percent  in Somalia and 70 percent in the past four months in Kenya)
  • Conflicts in the affected zones – 60 percent of the population of Somalia are not accessible
  • The movement of people in search of food
  • $1 billion for the year and so far only half of it is secured

Concerning the solutions there was a long list of good words.

Building peace was mentioned as a key duty and the responsibility of warring parties to allow access to the suffering population.

The French minister Bruno Le Maire said that the necessary financial support needs to be found at the latest at the donor meeting in two days time in Kenya.

The second element is the need to invest in agriculture, and not only at moments of emergencies, but in the long-term. Every developing country should have the right to secure its own food.

Concrete suggestions from the G20 group of developed and emerging countries would be to establish a reserve of emergency stocks, to invest in research and agricultural knowledge such as developing drought resistant seeds and work on irrigation (only 1 percent of the arable land in the Horn of Africa is irrigable).

After a lot of good words and appeals, Jeffrey Sachs, the economist and adviser to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, brought people back to reality. European Union countries and the U.S. are in no position to give financial aid, she said, and we must look to Persian Gulf nations.

He said that many participants had mentioned integral rural development, however only a few would really apply it in a way which would include looking not only at agriculture, but at health, education etc.

Finally he said, that climate science is incomplete, there needs to be more investment into more thorough information. There is the assumption that the rain patterns which usually affected Somalia have moved to the Indian Ocean, due to the global warming of the Earth. More of such information is needed in order for people to adapt to new situations.


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