A dangerous delay

The cost of late response to early warnings in the 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa

Publication date: 18 January 2012
Author: Debbie Hillier, Humanitarian Policy Adviser, Oxfam; Benedict Dempsey, Humanitarian Advocacy Adviser, Save the Children

More than 13 million people are still affected by the crisis in the Horn of Africa. There were clear early warning signs many months in advance, yet there was insufficient response until it was far too late.

This briefing, published jointly by Oxfam and Save the Children, examines the factors that allowed a drought in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti to develop into a full-scale crisis of hunger and livelihoods, such that millions of people suffered and thousands died. Its main focus is the response of international aid system, although the ultimate importance of enhanced resilience for the communities themselves is recognized.


A change in approach to chronic drought situations is needed: managing the risks, not the crisis. This means that the all actors – national governments, donors, NGOs, and the UN need to:

  • Act decisively on information from early warning systems and not wait for certainty before responding;
  • Actively seek to reduce drought risk in all activities, ensuring that long-term development interventions increase resilience and adapt to the changing context; and
  • Change organizational structures, invest in people and provide flexible funding in order to break down the divisions between humanitarian and development work.