Drought is Life or Death Issue in Horn Of Africa

13 Jul 2011

Horn of Africa Drought An estimated 3,000 people a day are arriving in Kenya and Ethiopia from Somalia seeking help. Photo: UN Photo

According to the latest reports by the World Food Programme, some 10 million people are affected by the Horn of Africa's worst drought in 60 years.  An estimated 3,000 people a day are arriving in Kenya and Ethiopia from Somalia seeking help.  People are arriving in a very weak condition and it is very distressing to hear of the fatalities this severe hardship is causing.  

Mark Bowden, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, has just been to Mogadishu and also to the refugee camp at Dollo in Ethiopia – both places where drought victims are heading.  UNHCR chief, Antonio Guterres, has also been to the Somali refugee camps and called for urgent help for the drought victims.

My overwhelming concern right now is that people are dying because of the drought, particularly those who must leave their land and their homes to walk long distances, in a weakened condition, to try to find food and water.  Many Somalis are crossing borders to do that.  Sheer survival is a battle for many families right now.

Looking ahead, more support is needed to develop drought-resistant agriculture and small holder farming in the areas affected.  As there has been insufficient support for this kind of long term development in the past, the crises keep coming, weakening communities and resilience, and taking a heavy toll on human life.

UNDP, working with sister UN agencies, has many relevant initiatives in place, which, with support can be scaled up to take them from helping the tens and hundreds of people to the many thousands and tens of thousands.  

Food security in significant parts of the Horn of Africa is severely constrained by recurrent drought and land degradation, and climate change will make the problems worse over time. A report released by UNDP in February showed that ensuring food security goes beyond addressing agricultural production.  It also requires better basic rural infrastructure, access to credit, resilience to shocks, and an end to armed conflict.  A comprehensive developmental approach with a medium to longer-term focus is required to build greater food security.

What are your thoughts: How can we as a global community help prevent food crises caused by droughts?


By Helen Clark

Helen Clark is the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and the former Prime Minister of New Zealand.

UNDP Around the world