In the past few weeks, the attention of the global community has been focused on the pathetic images coming through the media of the victims of drought and famine in the Horn of Africa.
Described by the United Nations as the worst drought to strike the region in 60 years, about 12 million people are said to be affected, with Somalia already experiencing famine due to 2-year cessation of rains. According to statistics by the United States Agency for International Development, (USAID), 3.5 million people face the threat of malnutrition in Somalia, 2.9 million in Ethiopia, 600,000 people in Kenya and 520,000 in Djibouti.
The Somali situation is compounded by decades of political conflict, and made even worse by the ban on foreign aid organizations including food agencies, by the anti-government militia group, Al-shabaab.
Reports also indicate that UN agencies have been stockpiling food aid in the capital Mogadishu, and not distributing it to areas that are in critical need. As a result, thousands of Somalis have crossed over to the neighbouring countries of Kenya and Ethiopia to seek food and shelter. Grim images of starving women and their malnourished children and carcases of their dead livestock tell a pathetic story that should prick the conscience of the rest of the world.
Obviously, more action is definitely required to reverse this trend and check the looming humanitarian disaster in the Horn of Africa. African countries are not doing nearly enough to help. In fact, an earlier report into the problem noted that but for Sudan (North), no other African nation has contributed to the UN effort to help the victims.
Even Kenya had to be pressured before the government there relented and allowed the erection of relief camps to cater to those fleeing. The refugees need shelter, food, water and medical facilities to enable them survive the harsh environments in the camps. These camps have become overcrowded leading to problems of sanitation and anxiety over the spread of communicable diseases.
In the settlements in Kenya about 370,000 people are crammed into an area meant for 90 people. For this reason, the authorities in Kenya are raising fears about security concerns and lack of resources to cater for the large refugee population. The United Nations alone cannot provide for the thousands of refugees who troop into the camps in Ethiopia and Kenya regularly. The African Union must also intervene and make its impact felt.
The drought situation in East Africa should not be left to other members of the international community alone to handle. African countries should do more to ameliorate the suffering of those severely affected by the famine. In the first place since it is shortage of food that is forcing the Somalis to leave their country for elsewhere, the African Union should not only provide food relief inside Somalia, but also facilitate the provision of shelter for them.
The Horn of Africa is prone to perennial drought leaving large swathe of its population often helpless whenever the problem occurs. Although, this challenge is caused by the environment and worsened probably by climate change, it is baffling that governments in the region have not made any significant effort to take counter-measures to minimize the effects of droughts on their peoples.
It is regrettable that because of the long-standing crisis in Somalia, the government has not been stable enough to address the crucial issues of poverty and hunger and the failed country's numerous security challenges.
Unless governments in the region become pro-active in dealing with the problem, the danger of donor-fatigue may take the already serious situation to a new and more dangerous level.
Countries in Africa should study what is happening in the Horn of Africa and take some useful lessons from it. With its large and growing population, Nigeria especially should take the issue of food security serious because its northern region is also susceptible to drought due to desertification.
A major shift towards sustainable mechanized and fadama farming could go a long way to boosting food production and curtailing the need to import food, which is a dangerous path to dependence.