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Drought in the Horn of Africa: preventing the next disaster

The Horn of Africa’s most serious drought in decades has brought severe humanitarian consequences. Much of the suffering could have been avoided, and in a region plagued by recurrent drought, the greatest challenge today is preventing the next disaster.

Using examples predominantly from Kenya, this report looks at the roots of the catastrophe – why a natural occurrence has devastated the lives of millions – and proposes ways to avert future crises when drought returns to the Horn, as it will with regularity.

Aside from shortage of rain, this paper outlines the following causes of the drought:

  • change of lifestyle: Somalis used to be masters of survival, but due to current realities they are abandoning their nomadic lifestyles which served their survival needs well in the past
  • change of landscape: politics, international borders and war have disrupted the Horn socially, economically and environmentally
  • demographics: there are five times more people in the drought-stricken pastoral areas than there were 60 years ago
  • land use: increasing amounts of land are moving into private ownership and national parks, leaving less space for animal grazing
  • over-dependence on food aid: food aid saves lives, but when it leads to dependency livelihoods suffer in the long term.

To avert future food crises, the report makes the following recommendations:

  • governments, donors and humanitarian organisations must work together on a long term approach, addressing the chronic underlying issues
  • resilience of communities must be built to empower people to identify their development priorities and diversify livelihood options
  • donors already motivated to provide increased funding during times of heightened emergency must also be encouraged to look at investing money to prevent the next disaster
  • communities should be protected from rising food prices that magnify the impact of drought
  • disaster risk reduction in communities has to become a priority, and governments should increase their investment in community infrastructure and social services with a focus on education to ensure the next generation can live healthy, productive lives.