Somalia + 2 more

Update on the 2011 East Africa drought and famine (Podcast/Q&A)

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Nearly one year after the Horn of Africa found itself in a food crisis because of a severe drought, and famine was declared in Somalia, David Orth-Moore, CRS’ regional director for East Africa, talked to us about the causes of the emergency and what CRS has been doing to help those affected in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

Listen to the podcast here.

What happened in the late summer of 2011 when much of Eastern Africa was affected by a severe drought?

The drought in East Africa in 2011 affected approximately 14 million people. It really occurred as a result of a series of failed rains in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. And after that happens a couple of times, people’s coping mechanisms cease and they can no longer produce the amount of food they need to provide for their families and for their own sustenance. In July 2011, the United Nations declared 6 regions of Somalia as famine regions, which resulted in the fleeing of about 170,000 people from Somalia into northeastern Kenya. In Ethiopia, millions of people were affected. And those people were again hit by a series of droughts and were just unable to produce any food. In Kenya, in northeastern Kenya in particular, people were left without adequate supplies of food and their livestock were dying. But the aid community mobilized fairly quickly in places like Kenya and Ethiopia and was able to respond. In Somalia it was much more challenging because of the political environment.

Can you tell us about the refugee situation in the Dadaab camps in northeastern Kenya?

In Kenya, there were about 170,000 Somalis who fled Somalia to a place called Dadaab. It’s a small city in northeastern Kenya that holds the world’s largest concentration of refugees. The camps became overcrowded and CRS was asked to take over management of certain water, sanitation and hygiene components of the newest and fourth camp in Dadaab. Eventually, that camp will hold about 50,000 people and we provide sanitation services there.

What was CRS’ response during the peak of this emergency?

In Ethiopia, we receive large support from the United States government in the way of food commodities, which we used to feed approximately a million people affected by the drought. Also in Ethiopia and in Kenya, northeastern Kenya, we provided access to water by water trucking. That means actually loading water on a big tanker and taking it to communities, so that people had access to that water. In Somalia, which was a much more complicated situation because of the politics, we had to find local organizations to provide these services and that was very basic provision of services, including food, shelter and water.

How did communities, where CRS had been working prior to the emergency, fare?

In areas where CRS has been working in Ethiopia and Kenya, the effects of the drought were much less. People did not run out of water, which meant their livestock could stay in the area, farmers could continue to use the land, and because of our soil conservation practices those farmers were able to get something and have some water for their crops. So in those areas, where we’d been working, we didn’t see people lose access to water, they had more food supplies than others, and they had access to income because of our integrated development programs.

What are some of CRS’ drought mitigation programs and how do they help people better withstand drought?

After the drought of 2011, CRS has continued to work in many of the communities to build resilience, working with farmers in improved crop techniques, in saving soil – natural resource management – which has a secondary effect of increasing water supply in those communities. We know in East Africa, there’s going to be more drought, and we’re just working as hard as we can right now in as many communities as we have funding for to improve people’s ability to withstand future drought.

What is the solution for people living in drought prone areas?

The real solution for people living in drought prone areas in East Africa of course is more investment in agriculture and natural resource management. It’s relatively easy to get money for food in extreme emergencies but it’s more difficult to help communities build their resilience so that when drought strikes, they’re able to sustain themselves. People know what needs to be done in their communities. It’s not always a lack of knowledge – farmers know what to grow – but it’s a lack of investment, not having the right seeds or tools, not having access to water. So if we can provide these things in advance, as we have done in many communities, we’ll see a dividend – a payoff – in terms of fewer emergency cases.

For more information, please contact Kim Pozniak.