Africa is facing a severe food crisis affecting up to 60 million people. Christina Bennet, an international aid analyst, says the current aid system is not working and the focus needs to move from response to prevention.
DW: Eastern and southern Africa are grappling with a severe food crisis affecting millions of people. The UN has called it the biggest humanitarian crisis since the end of the second world war and aid agencies have stepped up relief as more and more appeals are sent out by affected countries such as South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. Christina Bennet is head of the humanitarian policy group at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) in the UK. Christina, 60 million people face starvation in East Africa alone. What is your take on the aid response so far?
Christina Bennet: I think the aid system is not working if we have to get to the point of such desperation. We have so many people in need of dire levels of assistance - when the situations in these countries and the crisis that has evolved would have been preventable.
So you are saying that the aid does not really make sense at this point?
I think it is the way aid is approached and thought of at this point. In most of these countries you had a situation where a combination of drought plus conflict and poor governance have combined to create the situation we have today where you've got so many people at risk of starvation. The aid system is not really set up right now to prevent that type of situation. It is set up to respond to that type of situation and so we end up getting to the point where we are issuing these desperate, last minute, eleventh hour appeals for money when money is only part of the problem and something could have been done much before this so that we did not get to this point in the first place.
What exactly could have been done to prevent us reaching this point you are referring to?
At the top of my list would be resolving some of the conflicts that are ongoing in many of these countries. You see places like South Sudan, Yemen, to a certain extent Somalia, that have been plagued by conflicts over many, many years, and conflicts where major states are involved. There should be diplomatic efforts to resolve those conflicts, first and foremost.
But these people need food to survive now. What would be the alternative to aid?
At the moment these famines aren't caused necessarily by a lack of access to food. But if we are in a situation now where people actually need food, I think the quickest way to get food into people's hands is a combination of food assistance with cash assistance. That gives people access to cash so that they can buy food which is available to them at their local markets. It is not so much that there is no available food in many of these places, it's more that there is not the possibility of accessing food. If people can access food through cash, quickly, that would be the fastest way to resolve some of the food situation in these countries.
Historically, Africa has been dependent on aid for generations, decades. But we have not seen that really materializing and making people self-reliant. Why do you think that is the case?
Again, I think that the international aid community, as a community that responds to crises rather than prevents crises, has not invested in those measures that would make these communities who suffer from cyclical droughts and who, in many places, suffer from poor governance, self-reliant. The aid community has not invested where it is necessary to get countries back on track in those respects and therefore prevent the type of situation that we are in today.
Christina Bennet is head of the humanitarian policy group at the Overseas Development Institute in the UK.
Interview: Chrispin Mwakideu