HORN OF AFRICA: STARVATION THREATS
Erle Frayne D. Argonza
Gargantuan social crises brought about by almost ceaseless warring among ethnic communities surely have their tolls on the affected populations. Africa has been the most direly affected by such crises, with the end result of seeing up to around 3 millions of non-combatants needing immediate relief to stave off hunger and death.
There isn’t a single continent that hasn’t been affected by such calamitous events. The war calamity actually borders catastrophe, as the debilitation caused by starvation will be long lasting. My country the Philippines has its own versions of lingering ethno-religious and ideologically-driven wars, with hundreds of thousands up to a million displaced by the hot wars between Moslem rebels and government forces in Mindanao.
The hunger cum famine situation induced by long wars and unattended farms (during hot conflicts) tend to yank out textbook principles of crisis intervention. Expertise practically fails during such eventualities.
Take the case of the Horn of East Africa, where 11 million from 3 countries are threatened with starvation. As a development expert, I would admit to my own inadequacies to address such a gargantuan crisis situation, which demands humility and immediate relief. Below is an opinion note on crisis prevention in the said region.
[Philippines, 13 August 2011]
Crisis Prevention & the Meaning of Independence
A vulture eying a starving toddler – a nightmarish scene. The late Kevin Carter won a Pulitzer Prize for that chilling photo taken 1993 in South Sudan. It shocked the international community and prompted massive relief for a region reeling from civil war and famine.
That region became an independent state Saturday in a long process carefully aided by the United Nations and others.
As citizens of the newly formed Republic of South Sudan put persistent worries aside and celebrate independence from Khartoum, a colossal food crisis is threatening to destabilize the Horn of East Africa.
Some 11.5 million people in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia are at risk of starvation. It’s the most severe food security emergency in the world today, the worst drought in 60 years. And the current humanitarian response is inadequate.
That’s according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, which predicted the drought last year. FEWS NET is run by the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has made food security and crisis response & prevention pillars of its new strategy.
Can development aid help diffuse or even prevent crises before they occur (and threaten the safety and economic security of others around the globe)? Most likely. The key to making it work: a functioning early warning system, political leadership, money and sufficient funding flexibility. And an international community working in partnership to tackle emerging issues.
But of course, things aren’t always clear-cut, especially when development, diplomacy and defense objectives collide. Should the international community freeze assistance to the Palestinian territories, for instance, as long as their leaders seek statehood with the United Nations? Should international donors continue to fund HIV prevention in China and other emerging economies? What exactly should be the role of private and public donors like the European Union?
Amid these current debates, the suffering continues in the Horn of Africa. As Save the Children CEO Justin Forsyth wrote last week in the Huffington Post: “Two tragedies are unfolding in the horn of Africa. The first is the very visible one, the tragedy of families who’ve walked for weeks, their children growing weak with hunger, desperate for our help. Then there is the larger tragedy of a failing humanitarian system built around responding to emergencies, not preventing them.”
It appears as if sweeping reforms of our relief and development architecture are needed to truly tackle emerging crises before they get out of hand.
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