East Africa drought crisis still ‘huge’
Oct 20, 2011 10:09 AM
The size of the humanitarian emergency in the Horn of Africa remains massive, says a British politician.
Three months after famine was officially declared in Somalia, hundreds of people, mainly children, are still dying every day, said Britain’s International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell.
The drought and famine have forced thousands of people into refugee camps and left 12 million people in need of aid and 750,000 at risk of death in Somalia, according to the latest figures from the Famine Early Warning System FEWS.
Earlier this week it was revealed that British aid is feeding more than 2.4m people across the region and an appeal by the UK’s Disasters and Emergency Committee has raised £72m, but that is still not enough.
With the rainy season round the corner, people caught up in the crisis are now facing the risk of disease spreading across crowded refugee camps.
More than 400,000 children are still at risk of death, just in Somalia alone, Mr Mitchell notes.
British aid pouring into the region has been concentrated on keeping people healthy. About 1.3m people have been given jabs against measles, for instance, and 400,000 doses of anti-malarial drugs are heading for Somalia.
Although the rains look likely to bring with them yet more misery and death, they can also play a part in the region’s recovery from the disaster. Funds raised by British people have helped buy seeds for more than 200,000 people, which they will be able to plant and grow when the weather improves.
The biggest problem, however is still actually getting to people in need who are living inside the parts of Somalia worst affected by fighting. Famine was officially declared in the lawless country as far back as July. And because they can’t get aid if they stay put, the number of Somali refugees crossing into south-eastern Ethiopia is on the rise.
Announcing its appeal to help people hit by the crisis DEC chief executive Brendan Gormley said earlier this week: “The incredibly generous support of the UK public for the DEC East Africa Crisis Appeal has made the difference between life and death for many people in the region.
But, he warned that “the situation remains grave however particularly in those areas of Somalia where access for most aid agencies remains severely restricted.”
The appeal brought in the third highest amount in charity’s 45-year history – only the Asian tsunami (£392m) and the Haiti earthquake (£107m) raised more.
Climate change increasing poverty and vulnerability in Ethiopia
Oxfam Press Release, Published: 22 April 2010
Small-scale farmers and pastoralists in Ethiopia are likely to bear the brunt of the negative impacts of climate change in the region, which will include increased poverty, water scarcity, and food insecurity, according to a new Oxfam International report released today.
The international development agency’s report, “The Rain Doesn’t Come on Time Anymore: Poverty, Vulnerability, and Climate Variability in Ethiopia,” was launched at a special Earth Day celebration organized by the Climate Change Forum-Ethiopia in collaboration with other environmental organizations. While Ethiopia has always suffered from great climatic variability, including droughts that have contributed to hunger and even famine in the past, the report details how climate change is set to make the lives of the poorest even harder.
A country of farmers
“People who are already poor and marginalized are struggling to cope with the added burden of increasingly unpredictable weather,” said Abera Tola, Oxfam’s Horn of Africa regional director. “It is getting harder and harder for families and communities to bounce back from ever-changing, inconsistent weather affecting their livelihoods, and many have been forced to sell livestock or remove children from school – coping mechanisms that only increase the cycle of vulnerability.”
Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world and 85 percent of the population depends on agriculture for their livelihood. The agricultural sector is especially vulnerable to the adversities of weather and climate since it is rain fed, done using relatively basic technologies, and on tiny plots of land.
Women are hardest hit
“From the Rift Valley to Tigray, farmers and pastoralists around the country have shared with us the toll that the changing weather is having on their communities, from ruined crops to dying cattle,” said Tola. “Even relatively small shifts in the growing season, can spell disaster for the poorest farmers and pastoralists who are already struggling in poverty.”
Women and girls in particular are disproportionately affected by climate variability. In times of crisis, women tend to stay home with their children, while men move away to look for alternative means of survival. Women also have fewer options to find other ways of making a living, especially since women’s literacy rate is not even half of that of men. Women are also not given a say in household decisions and are frequently without cash savings or assets to sell to buy food and other basic items.
“The rain doesn’t come on time anymore. After we plant, the rain stops just as our crops start to grow. And it begins to rain after the crops have already been ruined,” Sefya Funge, a farmer in Adamitullu Jiddo Kombolcha district in Ethiopia told Oxfam. “Because of a lack of feed and water, most of my cattle have died. The few that survived had to be sold so that we could buy food to live on. As I no longer have the means to support my family, only three of my eight kids are still with me. Losing our assets was bad, but the fact that our family is separated is devastating.”
Coping with climate change
With some assistance from non-governmental organizations and the government, small-scale farmers and pastoralists are adopting a variety of coping mechanisms, according to the report. In the farming areas, many are shifting to more drought tolerant crops and varieties, improved forest management practices, diversified energy sources, and alternative means of income from off-farm activities. Pastoralists have also divided pasture into wet and dry season grazing areas to better manage risk, while others have changed the composition of their heard from cattle to camels and goats, which can better tolerate dry, hot weather.
Poverty, limited resources, little alternative sources of income and livelihoods, lack of knowledge and expertise, and the absence of appropriate public policies and financing, increase vulnerability and decrease people’s capacity to cope.
From The Guardian’s Poverty Matters Blog:
Is climate change to blame for famine in the Horn of Africa?
It’s impossible to answer with a simple yes or no – but here’s a summary of what we think we know so far.
A herd of goats at Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. The current drought conditions have been caused by successive seasons with very low rainfall. Photograph: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters
So is famine in the Horn of Africa linked to climate change or not? The question arises whenever “extreme weather events” – hurricanes, floods, droughts – hit our TV screens. It’s impossible to answer with a simple yes or no – but here’s what we think we know so far.
The current drought conditions have been caused by successive seasons with very low rainfall. Over the past year, the eastern Horn of Africa has experienced two consecutive failed rainy seasons. According to surveys of local communities, this is part of a long-term shift. Borana communities in Ethiopia report that whereas droughts were recorded every six to eight years in the past, they now occur every one to two years.
Meteorological data back up the picture on temperatures: mean annual temperatures increased from 1960-2006 by 1C in Kenya and 1.3C in Ethiopia, and the frequency of hot days is increasing in both countries. Rainfall trends are less clear: according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report, there are no statistically significant trends in rainfall. However, more recent research suggests that rainfall decreased from 1980 to 2009 during the “long-rains” (March to June).
The historical record does not “prove” that the current drought is directly attributable to climate change. True, there are now a few cases in which scientists have been able to estimate the extent to which man-made climate change has made a particular extreme weather event more likely, but these exercises require reliable long-term weather data that only exists for Europe and North America – no such studies as yet exist in the case of the current drought.
What about the future? Globally, climate change modelling projects an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events like droughts and floods. In the absence of urgent action to slash global greenhouse gas emissions, temperatures in the region will probably increase by 3C-4C by 2080-99 relative to 1980-99.
But again, rainfall projections are unclear. Most modelling, as reflected in the IPCC’s last assessment, suggests more rain will fall in the east Africa region as a whole, with an increase in “heavy events” (sudden downpours, so more flood risk). However, some recent studies suggest rainfall will decrease, particularly in the long rains.
The combination of higher temperatures and more unpredictable rains is alarming for food production. One recent estimate published by the Royal Society suggests much of east Africa could suffer a decline in the length of the growing period for key crops of up to 20% by the end of the century, with the productivity of beans falling by nearly 50%.
The conclusion? Attributing the current drought directly to climate change is impossible, but in the words of Sir John Beddington, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, in a talk at Oxfam last week, “worldwide, events like this have a higher probability of occurring as a result of climate change”. Moreover, unless something is done, the current suffering offers a grim foretaste of the future – temperatures in east Africa are going to rise and rainfall patterns will change, making a bad situation worse.
What to do? First, remember that while the drought is caused by lack of rainfall, famine is man-made. As the Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen famously observed, famines do not occur in functioning democracies. The difference between the minor disruption of hosepipe bans and the misery in the Horn is down to a failure of politics and leadership. It is no accident that the communities worst affected by the drought are not just those blighted by conflict but also by decades of official neglect and contempt from governments, which see pastoralism as an unwanted relic of the past.
Second, the famine shows the extreme vulnerability of poor people to weather events like failed rains. Governments and the international community have to save lives now, but also act to reduce that chronic vulnerability, building local ability to manage the drought cycle, improving the flow of data, information and ideas for adapting to climate change, and drastically increasing long-term investment in smallholder agriculture and pastoralism, which have shown they can provide a decent life for millions of east Africans, provided they are supported (rather than ignored) by governments.
Beyond helping east Africa and other vulnerable regions adapt to impending climate change, it is of course also incumbent on the rich and emerging economies to cut the greenhouse gas emissions that cause it. Fail to do that, and all attempts at adaptation are likely to offer only temporary relief.
• Oxfam last week published a briefing on climate change and drought in east Africa
Duncan Green , Monday 8 August 2011 07.00 BST guardian.co.uk