A United Nations-convened meeting on hunger in the Horn of Africa today called for a twin-pronged approach to tackle the food crisis, stressing immediate relief and the strengthening of the resilience of affected communities to enable them to cope with future shocks in the drought-prone region.
Agriculture ministers from the 191 Member States of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), senior officials from the African Union and representatives from NGOs and other UN agencies had gathered in Rome to take stock of the situation in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Somalia, where more than 12 million people are facing a severe food crisis spawned by the region’s worst drought in six decades.
They met as the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN World Health Organization (WHO) reported that cholera cases in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, were rising amid growing reports of acute watery diarrhoea in the southern port town of Kismayo and other urban areas.
Five regions of south-central Somalia have been declared famine zones with tens of thousands of people, mostly children, thought to have died of starvation and related diseases in recent months.
“Even as we deal with saving lives today, we should also go further and take steps to prevent future calamities,” said Jacques Diouf, the FAO Director-General, at the one-day meeting.
“We have to start building for the future – now. Comprehensive, government-endorsed investment plans are already available – the funding gaps are clear and large. If governments and their donor partners do not invest in agriculture now, the appalling famine we are struggling to redress will return to shame us yet again,” he said.
In his message to delegates at the meeting, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that while the hungry must be feed immediately, the means for sustainable livelihoods and food and nutrition security must be found for the future. “Short-term relief must be linked to building long-term sustainability particularly for highly vulnerable pastoralist communities,” he said.
The twin-track approach required “climate-smart crop production, livestock rearing, fish farming and forest maintenance practices that enable all people to have year-round access to the nutritious food they needed,” the Secretary-General added.
Echoing Mr. Diouf’s call, Yukiko Omura, the Vice President of the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), said: “Feeding the hungry does not end hunger, unless we help people provide for their futures. If donors, development agencies and governments do not attend to the medium and long term, this kind of tragedy will happen again.
“We cannot control droughts, but we can control hunger. To do so we must invest in the world’s smallholder farmers so that they can feed their communities and their families.”
Sheila Sisulu, the Deputy Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), said that the cycle of hunger could be overcome by harnessing the power of regional institutions and forming partnerships with national institutions and showing political will and international commitment.
“What the Horn of Africa region is enduring today is a manifestation of the extent to which livelihoods in Africa are extremely vulnerable to shocks – hence the need to address such extreme vulnerability of livelihoods, and of the economies of communities and nations,” said Tumusiime Rhoda Peace, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture of the African Union.
While the food crisis in the Horn of Africa was triggered by drought, conflict and high food prices, the underlying cause for the region’s vulnerability to such shocks was inadequate investment in agriculture and insufficient management of natural resources, delegates at the meeting pointed out.
On the disease outbreaks in Somalia, UNICEF and WHO said that poor sanitation, shortages of clean water, overcrowding and high malnutrition rates had left people vulnerable to infectious diseases such as cholera and pneumonia, the two agencies said in a joint press release.
About 75 per cent of all cases of acute watery diarrhoea are children under the age of five. Cholera cases have been confirmed in the regions of Banadir, where Mogadishu is situated, Bay, Mudug and Lower Shabelle.
Some 4,272 cases of acute watery diarrhoea and cholera have been reported in Banadir Hospital in Mogadishu alone since January.
Partners in the health and water and sanitation clusters are preparing for a potential 100,000 cholera cases. Emergency diarrhoeal disease kits containing medical supplies such as syringes, infusions and oral rehydration fluids, already pre-positioned by UNICEF and WHO, have been sent to 13 hospitals.