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World must respond to the emerging drought crisis in the Horn of Africa

According to the World Food Programme and other aid organizations, more than 13 million people in Somalia and Ethiopia are at risk of food insecurity.

Climate change and El Niño are triggering this natural and human-made disaster.
REUTERS/Feisal Omar

While the Syrian refugee crisis continues to capture the world’s attention, the Horn of Africa has been forgotten. Between 2010-2012, there was a drought in Somalia that led to a famine, which claimed more than 260,000 lives. Now in 2016, that same threat is re-emerging, and it is believed to be the worst drought since the 1980s to hit the region.

Climate change and El-Niño are triggering this natural and human-made disaster. There are many underlying scientific and socio-political factors revolving around this emerging crisis in the Horn of Africa that has the potential to evolve into a famine if it is not addressed urgently. According to the World Food Programme and other aid organizations, more than 13 million people in Somalia and Ethiopia are at risk of food insecurity. Organizations must act now and they must invest in long term self-sustainable projects in the region.

The American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa (ARAHA) which has offices based in Minnesota and Somalia, was one of the few nongovernmental organizations on the ground responding to the 2011 drought crisis in Somalia by delivering emergency food aid and other essential supplies after other NGOs such as Doctors Without Borders evacuated the country due to safety concerns for their staff. Due to ARAHA’s small size, they have limited capacity to respond to this crisis. This is why it is important for the international community to come together during this time to mobilize their resources to create high-impact development programs that mitigate the effects of recurring drought in the Horn of Africa region.

Too little media attention

Unfortunately, the lack of media attention and humanitarian response is further exacerbating the deleterious effects of the drought. The unstable government in Somalia lacks the capacity to respond to this unfolding humanitarian crisis. Hurdles such as the United States’ block on remittances, which amounts to up to 35 percent of the country’s GDP sent to Somalia from the diaspora has negatively impacted the livelihoods of many Somalis living there. The United States is essentially cutting off a lifeline and this move will become exposed as the crisis worsens. Many members of the Somali diaspora have had to resort to sending money transfers through loopholes in Kenya and Djibouti to get money to their family.

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The semi-autonomous northeastern Somali region of Puntland was the hardest hit in 2011 with the drought, but that region was able to prevent a crisis, in comparison to south-central Somalia where people were internally displaced as a result of Ethiopia’s invasion. Perhaps the Somali government should look to Puntland for some preventive measures or strategies. The Ethiopian government has delayed its response to the drought in efforts to showcase its economic resiliency — in part because is has one of Africa’s fastest growing economies. The Ethiopian government has also resorted to silencing oppressed populations that inhabit regions heavily affected by the drought, such as Oromia and Ogaden, where humanitarian aid is blocked or diverted, in its quest for power.

U.N. must declare an emergency

The consequences of not responding to this escalating crisis can already be felt. Just a few weeks ago, 500 East African migrants died in the Mediterranean sea departing from Libya after their boat had capsized. The migrants were fleeing the harsh political and economic conditions in the Horn of Africa in search of better opportunities in Europe. Millions in the region are already suffering the impacts of food shortages and are on the brink of a famine. The United Nations (U.N.) must declare an emergency before the devastating effects of the famine kicks in. Declaring an emergency now will allow the crisis to get media coverage and raise the allocation of funds needed.

We cannot allow this to be an afterthought. We cannot get caught in this vicious cycle of African economies being heavily dependent on foreign aid. It appears that African lives are not valued; they are often reduced to statistics in news headlines, which makes it difficult to translate their suffering. We cannot remain silent on this issue any longer, and we need a response. Journalists must actively cover the situation occurring in the Horn of Africa to inform the public about what is going on the ground. Multilateral organizations such as the U.N. must immediately declare an emergency. About $1.4 billion is needed in food aid and assistance. The U.N. is calling for $885 million in aid, but this simply is not enough. 

We cannot wait for the U.N. or the United States Agency for International Development to officially declare a famine. We, the community, must come together to increase donations. We must take immediate action and prevent history from repeating itself.

Barni Hussein is a student at the University of Minnesota.


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