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East Africa’s Drought: The ‘avoidable Disaster’ That Claimed 100,000 Lives

Posted on the 18 January 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
East Africa’s drought: The ‘avoidable disaster’ that claimed 100,000 lives

Drought-ravaged Somalia. Photo credit: Feed my starving children

East Africa’s drought, which has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people in the Horn of Africa in 2011, could have been avoided if the international community, donor governments and humanitarian agencies had responded earlier and more swiftly to warning signs that a disaster was in the making, according to a new report published by charities Save The Children and Oxfam. The report, A Dangerous Delay, concludes that although drought sparked the east Africa crisis, human factors turned it into a disaster, reported The Guardian, which labeled the drought an “avoidable disaster.”

Figures compiled by the Department for International Development (DfID) suggest that between 50,000 and 100,000 people, more than half of them children under five, died in the drought crisis that affected Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya last year. DfID’s shocking statistics are supported by separate US government which estimate that more than 29,000 children under five died in the space of just 90 days from May to July last year, reported The Guardian.

“A culture of risk aversion caused a six-month delay in the large-scale aid effort because humanitarian agencies and national governments were too slow to scale up their response to the crisis, and many donors wanted proof of a humanitarian catastrophe before acting to prevent one”, lamented the report. “Waiting for a situation to reach crisis point before responding is the wrong way to address chronic vulnerability and recurrent drought in places like the Horn of Africa.”

We cannot allow this grotesque situation to continue. Oxfam and Save The Children’s chief executives backed the report with strong statements. Barbara Stocking, Oxfam’s chief executive, said: “We all bear responsibility for this dangerous delay that cost lives in east Africa, and need to learn the lessons of the late response. It’s shocking that the poorest people are still bearing the brunt of a failure to respond swiftly and decisively.” Justin Forsyth, Save the Children’s chief executive, said: “We can no longer allow this grotesque situation to continue, where the world knows an emergency is coming but ignores it until confronted with television pictures of desperately malnourished children.”

It would be a crime to fail again. An editorial in The Globe and Mail expressed sadness at the report’s findings: “Children shouldn’t have to starve to death to galvanize the international community into action. And yet that is what happened in the Horn of Africa last summer.” The newspaper lamented that despite that “sophisticated early warning systems” forecast a drought in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia “as far back as the summer of 2010″ donors, governments, the United Nations “and even relief agencies failed to respond until people began to die.” The Globe and Mail recognized that, in the months before the famine, “the world was understandably preoccupied with the global recession, the Arab Spring uprisings and other crises. However, the early warning system, which analyzes weather, agriculture, livestock, markets and nutrition, produced reliable information that should not have been ignored. The wait-and-see approach resulted in the unnecessary deaths of 100,000 people.” The editorial said that the “report is well-timed” as “another imminent food crisis is unfolding, due to drought and high food prices in Chad, Mali and Senegal. Malnutrition rates are approaching emergency thresholds and aid groups say there is a window of opportunity between now and March to assist vulnerable communities. The world has a chance to put the lessons from East Africa into practice. It would be a crime to fail again.”

Taking steps. The Telegraph turned to how future drought crisis can be handled better. The newspaper reported that the charities have urged governments around the world to sign up to the Charter to End Extreme Hunger, a joint-agency initiative which urges nations to take concrete steps to prevent future catastrophic disasters. The report also urged organisations to seek more funding and release this as soon as the crisis signs are clear.

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