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DEC Annual Report and Accounts 2011–12

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Surrounded by shattered buildings and a massive concrete wall pock-marked by shell holes and small bullet craters, I met Malaika Issack. What could drive anyone to seek shelter in a city like Mogadishu, scarred by twenty years of war?

Malaika fled her village with her husband and six children after all the animals they depended on for their survival died, one after the other. She is from the region of Bay, which in July 2011 was one of the first regions in south central Somalia to fall into famine. She told me the rice, flour, sugar and vegetable oil she received as part of this DEC-funded food distribution by Islamic Relief meant her family would eat well that night for the first time in two months.

Such food distributions should never be needed. By helping vulnerable communities become more resilient to the disasters they will have to face, we can prevent much suffering and death, as well as making recovery from any crisis easier and faster. This approach is actually cheaper than dealing with the consequences of doing nothing. In Wajir, in north east Kenya, I saw this principle in practice. Improving and capping shallow wells was one simple example – it means more water can be drawn to help both people and cattle survive drought. It also keeps the water clean which means children weakened by hunger are less likely to get diarrhoea and die.

How to ensure we reduce the threat posed by predictable crises is a huge challenge to the humanitarian community. We know which areas are most vulnerable and how we can support communities to strengthen their resilience. The early warnings when a food crisis is imminent are now clear and specific. Following a successful appeal in 2011 for the East Africa crisis, the DEC helped highlight the issue of improving pre-emptive responses through its evaluation processes and we have commissioned further work on what we can learn from that disaster with Chatham House. We have also begun work on a study into how to reduce the risk of disasters in Pakistan after catastrophic monsoon flooding hit the country two years in a row. While our members can build the increasing of resilience into the work they do with disaster-affected communities, funding effective pre-emptive action remains hugely challenging, as the current food crisis in West Africa has shown.