East Africa drought: Crisis in Africa linked to poverty

from Trócaire
Published on 08 May 2006
The Horn of Africa is currently in the grip of a crisis threatening the lives of millions of people across the region. The seven countries in the Horn - Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda and Sudan - have a combined population of 160 million people, almost half of whom live in areas which suffer from chronic food shortages.
The almost complete failure of the October - December 2005 'short rains' season saw the already marginal existence of millions of farming and pastoralist (nomadic farming) families severely threatened. While this current humanitarian emergency can be directly linked to last year's drought, which came on the heels of poor and erratic rainfall conditions dating back to 1999, it also serves to highlight the shocking levels of poverty and underdevelopment that affect an unacceptable number of people in these countries.

In addition to the drought, large swathes of the Horn of Africa are dealing with a 'perfect storm' of interconnected and mutually reinforcing problems that affect people's livelihoods.

Traditional coping strategies adopted by local populations in times of drought and food shortage are becoming increasingly ineffective as the region's, and indeed global, climate becomes more unstable and destructive weather events more severe.

Pastoralist and farming communities have seen their herds and crops decimated, placing them in immediate peril but also depriving them of the means necessary to restock and replant for future seasons. Many of these people have, in effect, lost everything.

Just as climate change reduces the land's ability to sustain those who have made it their home for thousands of years, huge population growth has seen the demands made upon this limited resource greatly increase.

The population of the Horn of Africa has more than doubled since 1974 and is expected to increase by a further 40 percent within the next 10 years. Such growth has had, and will continue to have, a devastating effect on the natural environment and increase the likelihood of famine in the years to come. It is imperative that measures be taken to protect the region's ecosystem and safeguard the livelihoods of future generations.

Access to even the most basic healthcare is highly problematic for many people in the region. The countries of the Horn of Africa have some of the lowest standards of health in the world, with women and children being worst affected by disease and malnutrition. In the event of a humanitarian crisis or emergency it is these most vulnerable who suffer first and suffer most.

Families in affected areas have very limited survival options in the event of an external shock. Drought, armed conflict and other natural and unnatural disasters can be devastating for people without access to an alternative means to provide for themselves, or the education necessary to seek other forms of employment. This stark reality puts a human face on the effects of both the gross imbalance in trade between the developed 'North' and developing 'South', and the seemingly ambivalent attitude taken by some of the region's leaders toward the extreme poverty suffered by many of their people.

Trócaire is working right across the region to help alleviate the immediate impact of the crisis and to assist vulnerable communities to emerge from a degree of poverty that we in Ireland sometimes struggle to comprehend.