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Long road ahead for famine-hit Horn of Africa


It could take months or even years before farmers in the drought-hit Horn of Africa are once again self-sufficient (Photo by Alun McDonald, Oxfam International)
It could take months or even years before farmers in the drought-hit Horn of Africa are once again self-sufficient (Photo by Alun McDonald, Oxfam International)

Alexandra Pope, staff writer

September 18, 2011 — Rains are starting to return to drought-hit Horn of Africa countries, but it could still be several months or even years before families are once again self-sufficient, relief organizations say.

Relief organizations are providing emergency aid to the hardest-hit areas (Photo by Alun McDonald, Oxfam International)
Relief organizations are providing emergency aid to the hardest-hit areas (Photo by Alun McDonald, Oxfam International)

Humanitarian workers in the drought-stricken area, which encompasses Somalia, southern Ethiopia, southern Sudan and northern Kenya, have been taking advantage of recent rainfall to speed the planting of crops. However, it will be three or four months before those crops are ready to be harvested – and tens of thousands of people are desperately in need of food.

Rosemary McCarney, president and CEO of PLAN Canada, says relief workers have been providing emergency food aid to those most in need, many of them children under the age of five.

“We’re also doing supplementary feeding in schools – that’s a key intervention point,” she adds.

If the annual monsoon rains live up to expectations, crops should be ready for harvesting around March. Pasture land should also be improving, which will allow farmers to replenish their livestock herds.

Relief organizations are hoping monsoon rains alleviate the situation (Photo by Jo Harrison, Oxfam International)
Relief organizations are hoping monsoon rains alleviate the situation (Photo by Jo Harrison, Oxfam International)

However, a long-term plan has to be developed to help those farmers feed their families during periods of severe drought, which are becoming more frequent, says Robert Fox, executive director of OXFAM Canada.

“The fact is that we’re now living in a climate-changed world, so droughts that used to happen every six or seven years are now happening more frequently, and that’s putting huge pressure on the families,” he explains.

Typically, farmers enjoy a few good years between drought cycles, which enables them to build up their herds in preparation for the next period of deprivation. Those good years are now fewer and farther between, Fox says.

“People have been pressed beyond their capacity to protect their families, protect their herds and protect their water sources.

“This year even the camels are dying,” he adds. “When the camels are dying, you know how desperate the situation is.”

Returning African farmers to a state of long-term self-sufficiency will take a long time and require a major investment from humanitarian organizations and international governments. For now, Fox and other relief workers are focused on the next few months.

“We are anxious to ensure there are good, consistent rains that allow us to get some green returning to trees and fields, and that we will work with families to build their herds and plant their crops,” Fox says. “We hope by this time next year they are able to support themselves.”

With files from Sana Ahmed

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