Friday, 15 July 2011

Horn of Africa Drought, Why does it keep happening?

Left: Bob McKerrow examining one of thousands of children affected by the severe drought that affected the highlands of Ethiopia in 1978-79.

I am currently in New Zealand giving some talks on disaster recovery and I am surprised by the number of people asking about the drought in the Horn of Africa. The next question they askis either why does it keep happening and what is the Red Cross doing?

Why does it keep happening?

The lack of rain is not the main reason that cyclical droughts are having an ever-greater impact on communities. Communities in arid lands have traditionally lived with and adapted to drought. Historical rainfall records show that there have always been fluctuations in rainfall, with current levels of precipitation mostly comparable to the past. But traditional lifestyles have evolved faster than the coping strategies in use by communities.

Population pressure is placing unviable demands on dwindling natural resources. Where communities used to number in the hundreds, they now include thousands of people, compounding environmental degradation and boosting competition for limited resources such as water and grazing land.

Access to education, communication and transportation are important advancements for communities that have traditionally been ignored or marginalised by the far-away capitals of their countries. But that access has also brought with it a greater demand for non-traditional goods and services that are often at odds with the traditional lifestyles and the capacity of these already compromised environments to absorb them. Even as younger generations of pastoralists seize eagerly on the modern opportunities increasingly available to them, their historic and traditional homelands are unable to sustain and provide for them, and drought and crisis only makes that worse.

See article I wrote about the 1978-79 drought to read further on this subject.

Ato Yigrem (l) from the Ethiopian Red Cross and Bob McKerrow 2nd from left (IFRC) on an assessment in the Wollo District, Ethiopia in July 1978. On this trip with our colleague Tsehayou Seyoum who the photo, we walked for many days trying to determine the extent of the drought. 

Is IFRC going to respond to the drought in the Horn of Africa?

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), through its National Societies, works in drought-afflicted communities year-round, deploying volunteers to assist in developing community resilience among the most vulnerable populations. During critical periods, including this year’s drought, the Red Cross expands its emergency response alongside existing programming in these communities.

The Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) launched a USD27 million appeal in January 2011 after reviewing forecasts that predicted that the crucial ‘long rains’ due in April-May would fail, exacerbating an already stressed situation among populations afflicted by these chronic crises.

Response to the appeal was low, especially from among the international community.

A supplemental appeal was launched in March 2011 by the IFRC on behalf of the KRCS to provide emergency support in water, food and livestock protection to the most affected populations in arid lands of Kenya.

This KRCS Drought Appeal is still open and only 30% funded. We urge partners and donors to contribute to this appeal, especially in light of the worsening situation. The Appeal will be revised and updated to reflect growing needs.

In Somalia, the worst of the vulnerability is in South Central, an area in which ICRC is lead agency on behalf of the Movement, working closely with the Somalia Red Crescent. We urge partners to ensure ICRC’s work is supported.

In Ethiopia, IFRC and Ethiopia Red Cross (ERCS) have supported drought response work throughout 2010. Needs assessments are being conducted in south east Ethiopia by IFRC and ERCS to determine needs and options for support.

There are currently no plans to launch a regional appeal.

Thanks to IFRC for much of the information above. For further information go to this site.


John LaPointe said...

I can't believe (!) that we're seeing the same old story of under-funded emergency appeals to catastrophes again! And again! What the HELL is going on?

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