Instability to blame for famine in Horn of Africa, aid groups say | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 21.07.2011
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Instability to blame for famine in Horn of Africa, aid groups say

Crop failure, droughts and floods are not the only causes of hunger. Corruption, mismanagement and bad governance are mainly to blame for catastrophes such as the current famine in the Horn of Africa.

woman tending to field

The drought has severely harmed many farmers' fields

Every day, between 1,000 and 2,000 refugees from Somalia come to the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya. They are fleeing from hunger - and from a nation which isn't a country at all.

"The situation is so chaotic in southern Somalia, that it's even dangerous for us aid workers to go there," said Ralf Südhoff from the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). Rebel groups are spreading fear and terror among the population, blocking desperately needed food aid and making any possible help from the outside world impossible.

Add to this the extreme drought. The result is that many who are already living at the poverty level and below are robbed of their last chance to survive. The food scarcity is causing prices to soar. Whoever can't pay them starves.

"Millet is a very important foodstuff in Somalia and is twice as expensive as it was just a short time ago," Südhoff said. "The people don't have any choices anymore."

Democracy can battle hunger

refugees walking through dust in dadaab refugee camp

Refugees from Somalia have to walk for days to reach the Dadaab camp complex

But there's no government to blame for the catastrophe in Somalia. The country is a classic example of a failed state, said Michael Brüntrup from the German Development Institute (DIE) in Bonn. There is neither a government nor an administration. In these cases, hunger crises are practically inevitable.

The Indian economist and Nobel Prize laureate Amartya Sen proved that acute famine hardly occurs anymore in democracies. However, chronic hunger can prevail under democratically elected governments, as well. This means many people remain undernourished, but they don't die in large numbers as a result.

Over a billion people worldwide are starving, Brüntrup said. This leads to a high level of childhood mortality, physical and mental handicaps and hopeless poverty.

Ethiopia can't battle the problem

The catastrophe currently raging in the Horn of Africa is not daily hunger, though, but rather a famine of biblical dimensions. There are people starving to death during their flight, children who often don't survive the weeks-long march to the Kenyan refugee camps in Dadaab, or who die shortly after arriving because they are already too weakened to survive.

They come from Somalia or Ethiopia, where the government is also in a desperate battle against hunger.

children at dadaab refugee camp

These children were lucky enough to make it to Dadaab

"Ethiopia has invested enormously in the agrarian sector in the past 10 years," Brüntrup said. "Every year, the number of starving has sunk by one to one-and-a-half percent, but beginning at a very high level."

However, the measures aren't enough. Ethiopia belongs to the poorest countries in the world. The rapid growth in population makes it difficult to expand the agricultural sector sufficiently and ensure food security. A devastating drought like the one right now cannot be thwarted by investments in rural development. Those people who have lost their land or animals due to the drought can only resort to fleeing.

Promises need to be fulfilled

In the long-term, consistent investments in agriculture and poverty reduction is the only thing which could prevent hunger catastrophes like this one. And these need to be investments that are transparent and sustainable - without the funds seeping away through corruption and nepotism.

Brüntrup said he therefore expressly welcomed the African Union's so-called Maputo agreement. In 2003, African countries pledged to invest 10 percent of their entire budget into agriculture. Unfortunately, Kenya for example, where the drought is threatening hundreds of thousands of people, has not kept this promise, he said.

"Additional funds or food reserves need to be put aside for acute crises like this one," Bruntrüp said. "Or the international donor community has to be asked for help."

But this additional aid by the international community has flowed fairly sparsely - despite all the promises. And according to WFP's Südhoff, it is by far not enough to battle a catastrophe of this degree.

"We have a mandate by the governments to help these people, but not the necessary funds," Südhoff said.

Many aid organizations are already warning of the next famine: in South Sudan, which has just become independent. The UN's youngest member nation is marked by a shortage of funds, lacking government competence and growing corruption. The downward spiral continues to turn.

Author: Helle Jeppesen / sac
Editor: Rob Mudge

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