By Austin Kennan, Regional Director, Horn of Africa, Concern Worldwide
One year ago, Somalia was gripped by famine. It was the first time since 1991 that famine was declared — it’s a term that is only used when more than 30 percent of children are suffering from acute malnutrition, the most dangerous and severe form of malnutrition. In these conditions, every minute counts.
While Somalia was the most affected, the crisis affected the whole region: successive failed rains in 2010 and 2011 sparked the worst drought the region had seen in 60 years. Some 12 million people across the Horn of Africa were in need of immediate humanitarian assistance. On the ground in the region since 1973, Concern Worldwide launched an emergency response that reached 797,000 people across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. This included not only food and nutrition relief for malnourished children, but also safe drinking water, as well as cash vouchers and livelihood opportunities so that people had money to access food, even as food prices skyrocketed.
While lives were saved, an estimated 100,000 were lost. Initially, international donors and governments were slow to release funds, which undoubtedly led to a delay in the response, increased the cost of the relief effort, and most importantly, caused further suffering. If we have learned any lesson from the food crisis in the Horn of Africa, it is to heed the signs that come out of the early warning systems.
Sustained investments in medium and long-term interventions that reduce communities’ vulnerability to food insecurity are of vital importance. This is the only way to get out of the cycle of crisis-and-response. In Somaliland over the past year, Concern worked with farmers to rehabilitate eroded land and is implementing rainwater harvesting techniques so that disasters, when they strike, are minimized. We will be implementing similar programs in the region in the years to come.
Adirahman Abib Ibrahim, a local villager involved in the project, said he had struggled for years through recurrent droughts to feed his eight children and to pay their school fees. “Erosion swept away most of my three hectares of land, so I was left with only a third to cultivate,” he told Concern. “It meant I could only plant a single crop (sorghum), but a few bags of grain wasn’t enough for my family.”
After Concern provided training in soil conservation techniques, Adirahman was able to cultivate land previously too barren from years of erosion. “Water has reached parts of my land where it has never been for 20 years,” he said. He also introduced new crops and now plants not only sorghum, but also maize, cowpeas, watermelons and tomatoes, some of which he intends to sell.
In Ethiopia, we are working with the government and local partners in the highland areas where 95 percent of the population is reliant on rain-fed agriculture. We are training farmers there on not only new planting methods, but also about the new ways to harvest and store crops and manage pests. Like Adirahman, many other farmers in Ethiopia are now growing a wider variety of food, including potatoes, which have never been grown in highland areas.
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