UN envoy must galvanize rapid donor response to East Africa food crisis – Oxfam

Published: 23 February 2006

Firm commitments from rich countries to fund the response to the food crisis in East Africa are not being made quickly enough, says international aid agency Oxfam.

The warning comes on the day United Nations new Special Humanitarian Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Mr. Kjell Magne Bondevik travels to Kajiado in Southern Kenya to see for himself the gravity of the situation.

Oxfam is calling on Mr.Bondevik, to use his current visit to the region as an opportunity to push donors for a swifter response to an escalating food crisis that threatens 11 million people.

Paul Smith-Lomas, head of Oxfam in East Africa said: "Although some funding is starting to come through, the response so far is dwarfed by the immediate need. Donors need to frontload their efforts so that action can be taken now; money given in three months will be too late for many."

Latest figures from the WFP show that donors have committed $18.7m, or 8%, in response to the $225m food appeal it launched two weeks ago to address the Kenyan food crisis.

There is also a $144m shortfall in the appeal launched for Somalia, while in Ethiopia a more positive picture emerges with a shortfall in the current food appeal of $38m. Oxfam estimates that at most donors have committed $186m to fund appeals for the 3 countries, against $574m requested, a shortfall of $388m (or 68%).

Oxfam also calls on Mr. Bondevik to establish a strong mechanism to coordinate a regional response to the crisis. This will help avoid unbalanced interventions, which creates the risk of people relocating to where aid is, increasing tension and conflict due to competition for scarce resources.

The situation in many parts of the region are increasingly bleak, with a recent Oxfam assessment team finding that many livestock owners in Southern Ethiopia have resorted to feeding their animals the thatch from their homes. One elder Buke Arero told the team: "It's a dead end. The livestock have started dying from this drought, and now it is our turn."

Further exacerbating the situation is the real likelihood that the long hoped for rains may fail.

"The meteorological forecasts suggest yet another set of failed rains. This would lead to a humanitarian catastrophe even worse than the current situation," said Smith-Lomas.

Malnutrition levels in parts of the North-Eastern Kenyan province of Wajir are more than double the 15% level at which an emergency is declared by UN standards.

In Turkana, in the North West, some families are surviving on wild fruits, squirrels and insects because of shortage of other food sources.

Contact Information

For more information, please contact:
Douglas Keatinge, Oxfam Regional Media Officer for the Horn, East-,
and Central-Africa (HECA), + 254 (0) 733 632 810 or + 254 (0) 20 282 0136