Horn of Africa: Manage the risks, not just the crisis, stresses OCHA

16 April, 2012
Cereal sales in a market in Borama, Somaliland, Somalia. Source: FSNAU/ Nyakairu
Cereal sales in a market in Borama, Somaliland, Somalia. Source: FSNAU/ Nyakairu

Expert forecasts warn that rainfall in the Horn of Africa throughout the March to May growing season is likely to be lower than average. The UN and humanitarian partners are now urging early action to prevent food insecurity from worsening across the region, with an emphasis on building resilience and sustainable livelihoods.

According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), rainfall in the eastern Horn is expected to begin late, to be poorly distributed over space and time, and to reach only 60 to 85 per cent of the average. This is a significant deterioration compared with earlier forecasts. 
 
Although some humanitarian conditions in the region have improved, around 10 million people are still food insecure and need immediate assistance. If rainfall is below average, it could reverse progress made over the last few months in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti. It could also lead more people into a more serious humanitarian crisis, especially agropastoralists and pastoralists.  
 
The UN and its humanitarian partners have called for a more sustained humanitarian response and more resilience-building projects to prevent the loss of livelihoods and agricultural assets. Without the ability to cope with recurrent droughts, people will continue to be trapped in chronic vulnerability, warned OCHA.
 
On 4 April in Nairobi, the Assistant Secretary-General (ASG) for Humanitarian Affairs, Catherine Bragg, addressed the Heads of States of Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) on the Horn of Africa. She stressed the need to “manage the risk, not the crisis.” 
 
ASG Bragg highlighted the need to build national and local capacity, invest in disaster risk reduction, and improve humanitarian coordination and collaboration in order to promote resilience and sustainable livelihoods in the Horn.   
 
“In this and other extreme food-and-nutrition insecurity crises, we find that we saved lives, but we generally failed to prevent the massive loss of assets of the most vulnerable households. This traps them in chronic vulnerability,” she said.  
 
In response to lessons learned from the Horn of Africa crisis in 2011, OCHA has now included more early recovery and resilience-building projects in its humanitarian appeals for the region in 2012. Humanitarian partners are carrying out immediate life-saving work in the affected countries. They are also providing livelihoods support, which includes distributing agricultural tools and drought-resistant seeds to farmers, and managing cash-for-work projects that enable people to buy their own food. 
 
“Unfortunately, funding for projects aimed at recovery and resilience remains a challenge,” said Mrs. Bragg. “In 2011, these projects were only 27 per cent funded, and most humanitarian funding so far this year has gone to providing immediate life-saving support,” she added. 
 
OCHA has stressed that funding is critical to cover immediate interventions and longer-term efforts needed to help people cope with these life-threatening disasters. 
 
“The resilience-based approach further elaborates the importance of integrating short-, medium- and long-term interventions… and seeks not only to save lives, but to save livelihoods,” said ASG Bragg.