A chance to end drought emergencies in East Africa – and end the excuses

Published: 8th September 2011

As East African leaders gather in Nairobi today to take part in a regional summit to end drought emergencies in the Horn of Africa, the international aid agency Oxfam says governments must take on greater responsibility and accountability in responding to the disaster. Ambitious but unrealized policies need to be turned into action on the ground, and detailed action plans with clear timelines, budgets and priorities must be laid out, if governments are to ensure that predictable future droughts do not spiral into full-blown crisis.

The two-day Kenya Conference brings together heads of state and leaders from the Horn of Africa, where 12 million people are at risk in a worsening humanitarian disaster. The meeting is asking governments to present national action plans about how they intend to tackle the current emergency now, as well as longer term plans to prevent future droughts developing into disasters.

Oxfam said the conference marks an important point in the response to the current crisis - the first high-level event organized by the affected region which emphasizes the responsibility of national governments to respond to the needs of their own populations, with support from regional organizations and donors.

“Governments in the region are being challenged to take action to prevent the preventable. The political responsibility to tackle drought and stop disasters lies with governments, but they have not always turned words into action. Many governments have good policies on paper, but they have not been fully implemented. Governments need to present and prioritise costed action plans that can be delivered and held to account by their own citizens,” said Philippa Crosland-Taylor, Oxfam’s Deputy Regional Director for the Horn, East and Central Africa, attending the meeting.

“Real action from governments will also need more support from the international community and donors. Currently across the region less than 1 percent of humanitarian aid is invested in preparing and preventing disasters. If national governments set the right tone, donors will no longer be able to shirk their responsibility and will have to give Governments in the region the funding and support to needed to make this happen,” said Crosland-Taylor.

National action plans will need to not only tackle the problem in the short-term, but ensure adequate investment in the medium and longer term to support early recovery and help build up the resilience of communities most at risk - particularly those living in dryland areas, which have faced decades of marginalisation and under-development. Pastoralists and small-scale farmers need much more support from their governments. In Kenya the livestock sector provides 50 percent of the country’s agricultural GDP yet the government allocates livestock producers less than 1 percent of the national budget.

Oxfam believes communities must be part of the decision-making and planning process and consulted on development priorities, the control of natural resources and help to monitor the use of funds for the national plans to be effective and ensure transparency.

The agency also believes national drought response measures should be complemented with specific drought contingency funds which could, if properly managed, help guarantee the timely provision of funding to deal with the immediate impacts of drought.

“This conference is an important chance for African leaders to show their determination to end drought disasters. Governments have a responsibility to their citizens to ensure that this is Africa’s last famine,” said Crosland-Taylor.

Read more:

East Africa food crisis

Real action from governments will also need more support from the international community and donors.
Philippa Crosland-Taylor
Oxfam’s Deputy Regional Director for the Horn, East and Central Africa

Notes to editors

More than 12 million people are at risk because of a severe drought that has hit parts of Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti. Poor rains have left parts of the region suffering the driest year in six decades; while six areas of Somalia have been declared by the UN to be suffering from the first famine of the 21st century.

The Kenyan conference will be held on 8 and 9 September, and is organized by the Kenyan government

Contact information

Alun McDonald, Oxfam Media and Communications Officer, Horn East & Central Africa:

Louis Belanger, Oxfam Media Officer in the US