Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Why little effort goes into preventing the next crisis

We are seeing many comments today on prevention efforts for drought/famine with the news focused on the current crisis in the Horn of Africa. Weather patterns that occurred months ago predicted that this drought would happen. When the Horn of Africa began to dry up, none of the aid we are seeing pledged now moved into help. If climate change continues, another drought could occur in the region in a couple of years. We could see a repeat of everything we are seeing now shortly unless some money is put into prevention as well as emergency food.

Below is a round up on some of the prevention commentary. First, from the Guardian, columnist John Vidal talks about the repeting cycle the Horn of Africa seems to be trapped in.

Nor was the crisis unexpected. The rains failed early this year in Kenya and Ethiopia, and there has been next to none for two years now in Somalia. Aid agencies and governments have known for almost a year that food would run out by now. But it is only now, when the children begin to die and the cattle have been sold or died that the global humanitarian machine has moved in, with its TV shows, co-ordinated appeals and celebrities. Why did it not go earlier? Because it takes months to prepare properly for a disaster.

Just as in 2008, the war in Somalia is primarily responsible for the worst that is happening. As Simon Levine of the Overseas Development Institute says: "Wars don't kill many people directly but can kill millions through the way they render them totally vulnerable to the kinds of problems they should be able to cope with." In this case, he says, people have lost all their assets and can't access grazing grounds they need. But remember too, that Somalia has been made a war zone by the US-led "war on terror". It's our fault as much as anyone's.

But another, more insidious war has also been taking place across the region. This one is being waged by governments and businesses against the pastoralists. Over the years, they have been steadily marginalised and discriminated against by Ugandan, Kenyan and Ethiopian governments, and now they are further jeopardised by large-scale farming, the expansion of national parks, and game reserves and conservation.

For the politicians in Kampala, Nairobi or Addis, the lifestyle of these people seems archaic and outmoded. They are said to be outside mainstream national development, and to be pursuing a way of life that is in crisis and decline. So the politicians think little of taking away their dry season grazing grounds or blocking their traditional routes to pasture land. However, as seen in major international studies, the pastoralists produce more and better quality meat and generate more cash per hectare than "modern" Australian and US ranches.

Instead of starving the region's people of funds and then picking up the pieces in the bad years – as governments must do now – Britain, the EU, the US and Japan must help people adapt to the hotter, drier conditions they face. With better pumps and boreholes, better vaccination of cattle, help with education, food storage and transport, people can live well again.

The facts are that people donate money when they see suffering on TV. They don't donate money when someone tells them that there hasn't been enough rain lately. NGOs and governments fall into the same trap, they move into action in times of crisis, not during times of preparation. Reuters Alert Net reporters George Obulutsa and Katy Migiro, touch on why charities and governments do little towards development that could prevent the next disaster.

"We have to invest much more in countries that are vulnerable to drought," said the European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, Kristalina Georgieva.

"Droughts are going to come again and again."

In the northern district of Moyale, child malnutrition rates are half those of neighbouring districts thanks to investment in drought preparedness, Georgieva said.

At a cost of $20, it is ten times cheaper to identify and treat children who are at risk of malnutrition before they reach a critical state than to pay for life-saving therapeutic care.

"Prevention is not sexy. This is fundamentally what the problem is," she said.

"If out of this drought, we come with a commitment to look into the long term structural factors --if we are brave enough to talk about population growth, if we are brave enough to talk about adaptation to climate change -- then the people who are dying are not dying for nothing."

Finally, the Science and Development Network has an editorial that includes a host of links to stories they did months ago that pointed to the future disaster. We won't include a snippet here but suggest you read it at the following link.


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