Emergency delivery of aid to people facing drought-related hunger in the Horn of Africa must be accompanied by longer-term efforts to boost food security in the region, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, calling for an agricultural transformation that improves the livelihoods of rural communities in the region.
“Short-term relief must be linked to building long-term sustainability. This means an agricultural transformation that improves the resilience of rural livelihoods and minimizes the scale of any future crisis,” Mr. Ban said in a message to delegates attending a United Nations-convened emergency ministerial meeting on the Horn of Africa in Rome.
“It means climate-smart crop production, livestock rearing, fish farming and forest maintenance practices that enable all people to have year-round access to the nutrition they need,” said Mr. Ban in the message, delivered on his behalf by Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.
An estimated 11.6 million people in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Somalia are facing severe food shortages with rates of malnutrition and related deaths having reached alarming levels in many parts of the region. The UN last week declared a state on famine in two areas of southern Somalia, the worst affected country.
Mr. Ban urged donors to provide a further $1 billion to assist those facing hunger. An estimated $2 billion in aid is required for the humanitarian response to the drought emergency, out of which $1 billion has so far been committed, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Delegates at the meeting in Rome, organized by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) at the request of France, which holds the rotating presidency of the Group of 20 (G20), recognized that the hunger crisis in East Africa could rapidly worsen into a humanitarian disaster if a response is delayed.
“The combined forces of drought, inflation and conflict have created a catastrophic situation that urgently requires massive international support,” Jacques Diouf, the FAO Director-General, told the meeting attended by ministers and other senior government representatives from the agency’s 191 Member States.
“If we want to avoid future famine and food insecurity crises in the region, countries and the international community urgently need to bolster the agricultural sector and accelerate investments in rural development,” said Mr. Diouf.
“Many of the women I met in Somalia and Kenya over the past few days had lost their children and had no one to depend on but the humanitarian agencies on the ground,” Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), told the gathering.
“We are particularly worried about Somalia right now and it is vital that we reach those at the epicentre of the famine with food assistance – especially the highly fortified nutritious products that are so important for vulnerable children,” she said.
Delegates at the meeting agreed that governments of the countries affected by the food emergency would manage response efforts in line with the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s (IASC) Horn of Africa Plan of Action.
They stressed that there is still a “window of opportunity” to support affected populations, including farmers, fishing communities and herders to restore their livelihoods and called for a special focus pastoralists and agro-pastoralists.
“We commit to an immediate and appropriate response to ensure that affected countries and communities have the capacity to preserve the vulnerable livelihoods on which so many people’s lives depend while building long-term resilience and safeguarding the foundations of food security to ensure sustainable reduction of hunger and malnutrition,” the delegates said.
As humanitarian operations gather pace, WFP is feeding 1.5 million people in Somalia and making efforts to reach another 2.2 million in areas of the south that had remained inaccessible. Food drops are being considered, according to an OCHA update.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that 780,000 children are acutely malnourished in southern Somalia, a 35 per cent increase since January. The agency has sent in nearly 900 tons of therapeutic and supplementary feeding supplies, enough to assist some 38,000 children in the coming days.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is distributing aid packages to some 189,000 people in southern Somalia and working with local authorities and other partners to register Somali refugees arriving in large numbers in Kenya and Ethiopia. Efforts are also under way to urgently improve shelter, water and other aid services for the refugees.
The Security Council, meanwhile, expressed grave concern over famine conditions in Somalia’s southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions, as well as acute malnutrition in parts of the wider Horn of Africa.
In a press statement after receiving a briefing from the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Catherine Bragg, members of the Council welcomed the mobilization of the international community in response to the crisis, but voiced concern over the shortfall in humanitarian funding for Somalia. They urged all UN Member States to contribute to the appeal for Somalia.
The Council urged all parties in Somalia to ensure “full, safe and unhindered access for the timely delivery of humanitarian aid to persons in need of assistance.” All armed groups must take appropriate steps to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian personnel and supplies, the Council added.