The crisis in Horn of Africa which has left more than 13 million people at risk of starvation will continue into the spring, and possibly the summer, said the European Union’s top aid official.
European Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said the Sahel region faced “very dramatic hunger” next year and feared some countries there were ignoring the problem.
The Horn of Africa crisis, triggered by the worst drought in decades, has affected Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti, Reuters reports.
Georgieva said around 250,000 people were at risk of dying from hunger in Somalia, where the country’s two-decade war has exacerbated the famine.
The situation is critical in central and southern Somalia where al Qaeda-affiliated al Shabaab rebels banned 16 relief agencies last week from areas they control.
“The crisis is going to be there at least through the spring and possibly all the way to the summer,” the commissioner told a media briefing in London ahead of talks with British development minister Andrew Mitchell.
Georgieva said she was extremely concerned about the famine’s long-term repercussions on the region because of the vast numbers of Somalis who had fled to refugee camps in Kenya, Ethiopia and Yemen. Instability in Somalia meant they were unlikely to return home once the crisis was over.
The commissioner said there were probably 400,000 to 500,000 Somalis in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country which is also plagued by unrest. The figure is twice the official estimate.
“The flow of refugees from poor country to poor country has stability and security implications,” she added.
Georgieva said the famine showed governments and donors must do more to prevent droughts becoming full-blown humanitarian crises.
“The Horn of Africa drought … is a wake-up call on how much more we need to do to anticipate and prevent droughts turning into killers. We cannot stop droughts but we can stop famines,” she said.
FEARS OVER MALI
Turning to the Sahel, she said the looming hunger crisis there was likely to be even worse than that in 2010 because the surrounding region was also expected to suffer food problems and would not act as a buffer.
She said there were even concerns that northern Nigeria could be affected.
Niger and Mauritania have already issued alerts following erratic rainfall, droughts and insect infestations.
Although they are likely to be the worst-hit countries, Georgieva said both were “looking at the problem with open eyes” and taking precautions including stockpiling food.
“I’m more worried about Mali, and even Burkino Faso, because there seems to be a bit of a desire there to wish the crisis away,” she said.
But the commissioner said the crisis in the arid region south of the Sahara desert would not be of the magnitude seen in the Horn of Africa, partly because donors were mobilising now. The Commission has already provided 55 million euros for the region.
“Investing now is not only morally the right thing to do, but it will cut costs in the future,” she added.
She contrasted the 30 euros it cost to feed a family in Niger for a month to the 220 euros it cost to treat just one child with acute malnutrition – a condition which would handicap it for life.
“It’s unfortunate that very often the massive response comes when the crisis is already deep and on the six o’clock news,” she added. “We have to be ready to act independently of the news cycle.”
Georgieva said that in the Horn of Africa the benefits of investing in disaster prevention were clear to see in Moyale in northern Kenya.
The district avoided the worst affects of the drought by installing roofs that allow people to store water, setting up mobile clinics to prevent child malnutrition and encouraging pastoralists to shrink their herds proportionate to the available grassland.
“The results are very impressive. The question is why we don’t do this everywhere,” Georgieva said.