It is dry. Extremely dry. Everyone and everything needs water, from people to livestock to vegetables in the garden. But rain is months away: it is drought season in sub-Saharan Africa.
Recently, organizations including UNISDR, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and 16 Red Cross societies from Africa came together in Arusha, Tanzania, to discuss ways to improve resilience to drought and to define a position on a new global framework for disaster risk reduction.
Outcomes from the the 5th Africa Drought Adaptation Forum and the 4th Africa Regional Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction will feed into the 2013 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, as well as the development of the Hyogo Framework for Action. Recommendations included a commitment to DRR investment and building resilient cities, and also to reducing risk through climate change adaptation.
"Eighty per cent of our population is affected by the drought that hits Kenya every two years," said Suada Ibrahim, Disaster Management Manager at the Kenya Red Cross Society. "Communities don't have time to recover, so they become more vulnerable."
Drought drives vulnerability through malnutrition, migration, conflicts over scarce resources, and skyrocketing food prices. But Ibrahim questions the traditional model of relief. "Are we really being fair to communities by rushing in with food relief?" she asked a group of journalists attending the forum. "To build true resilience, we need to focus on educating people and working with communities to ensure they have timely access to climate information, for example."
Following a successful campaign that saw Kenyans raise $10m US dollars to support operations during the 2011 drought, the Kenya Red Cross Society launched an initiative in the Sololo district to increase the ability of people to cope with the cycle of droughts and floods. The project focused on integrating food security, water and sanitation and health; one year later and farmers have enough food to feed their families, with extra to sell at the market. Cooperatives have been established to help manage their funds, and produce, in a sustainable way.
"People need to adapt to drought or they will perish," said Ibrahim.
A similar approach has proven to be effective for the Gambia Red Cross Society. Supported by the IFRC, staff and volunteers have adopted a twin track approach which links disaster response and recovery programming. Last year, 115,800 people were supported through the provision of food baskets; 42,859 people received seeds and fertilizer distributions.
Red Cross staff and volunteers are regularly in schools, planting fruit trees, providing water and latrines, and teaching students about proper hygiene. They work with refugees, establishing income generating activities through 'food for work' programmes; create community farms to ensure there are food reserves; and teach women about nutrition.
"We are looking at the baseline of what is happening in the community and what can we do to increase the food intake of these people," said Buba Darboe of the Gambia Red Cross Society. "We want people to have the best balanced diet."
The result has been increased food production and income, and better access to safe water. All of which contribute to the ability of communities to cope when the rains stop coming.