East Africa Food Crisis

Poor rains, poor response

Publication date: 20 July 2011
Author: Elise Ford

East Africa is facing the worst food crisis of the 21st Century. Across Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya, 12 million people are in dire need of food, clean water, and basic sanitation. Loss of life on a massive scale is a very real risk, and the crisis is set to worsen over the coming months, particularly for pastoralist communities.

The overall international donor response to this humanitarian crisis has been slow and inadequate. According to UN figures, $1billion is required to meet immediate needs. So far donors have committed less than $200 million, leaving an $800 million black hole.

While severe drought has undoubtedly led to the huge scale of the disaster, this crisis has been caused by people and policies, as much as by weather patterns. If more action had been taken earlier it could have helped mitigate the severity of the current crisis. It is no coincidence that the worst affected areas are those suffering from entrenched poverty due to marginalization and lack of investment.

A rapid increase in emergency aid is needed right now to save lives and protect livelihoods, so that people can rebuild once the crisis is over. National governments and donors must prioritize addressing the issues that make people vulnerable in the first place. There’s no time to waste. We must not stand by and watch this tragedy unfold.

Key recommendations from the report:

National governments

All governments in the region, with the support of the UN and donor community, must:

  • Ensure an accurate assessment of needs, effective co-ordination of the drought response, transparent responses, and the provision of funding corresponding to government capacity to support affected populations;
  • Co-operate to ensure food for humanitarian purposes can rapidly reach those in need and removing import taxes;
  • Guarantee access to humanitarian relief and that humanitarian principles are fully respected within responses, ensuring that any administrative burden is kept to a minimum and requests for visas and official permissions to operate are swiftly expedited;
  • Protect people’s rights to land and other natural resources and ensure communities have a say in the decisions that affect them;
  • Ensure that refugees are allowed unimpeded access to humanitarian relief and that no refugees are forcibly returned to insecure areas.

International response

The international community should:

  • Rapidly provide money to fill the $1bn funding gap. With 12 million lives on the line and three more months until rains may arrive, now is the critical juncture for a scale-up of the international response. No delay can be afforded;
  • Look beyond headline figures for appeals and ensure adequate funding for priority sectors that are seriously underfunded, such as water, sanitation, and agriculture, and balanced funding for food distribution, with funds for market support to encourage traders, and targeted cash distributions to strengthen the functioning of markets;
  • Prioritize funding mechanisms and activities that allow speedy disbursement and quick scale-up to reach populations most affected by the drought as quickly as possible;  
  • Commit immediate and adequate resources towards building the resilience of pastoralists and smallholder food producers in East Africa. These efforts must focus on long-term investment in livelihood protection measures, smallholder food production, disaster risk reduction, and climate change adaptation; 
  • Work with the WFP to bring forward plans to expand its operations from the current caseload of 6 million people, ensuring adequate ration sizes and addressing any problems in the pipeline to guarantee food reaches communities in the crucial July to October hunger gap period;
  • Engage with national governments to both ensure effective humanitarian responses for national and refugee populations and to support and prioritize funding that addresses the issues which make people vulnerable in the first place.