Dear Sahel,

     

    I am sorry to hear of the 19 million people in your region who are facing critical food insecurity. Having gone through this myself only just last year, I understand, and I thought that maybe it was time I contacted you so that together we can work out how to change things.

     

    In many ways, I am still trying to recover; in fact, over 9 million of my people in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti are still in need of humanitarian assistance. In some regions of Ethiopia and southern Somalia children under five are already showing signs of acute malnutrition. So you may think, who am I to give you advice when my situation is clearly not much better than yours? Well, I may not have all the answers to everything but I do know one thing: droughts, even extreme ones do not come as a surprise to us. We have been here several times before. We must stop reacting to these situations the same way and learn new ways to protect our people.

     

    My experience in 2011 taught me that our best efforts at using early warning systems and monitoring the food security situation of local communities will always be undermined if warnings are not heeded and acted upon. We?ve both been through droughts so many times before; we know very well when poor rains are likely to turn into something more serious. We must learn to trust this judgement and for others to trust us too.

     

    When the situation goes from bad to worse (and I hope you don?t get to this point) the right support for emergency responses is vital. For example, last year, we learned that cash interventions could help as much, if not more than food distributions and that some emergency responses could be harmful to our longer term interventions. Our people don?t want to be dependent.   They have the skills and resilience to respond to drought and they know best how to cope. But even the best traditional coping mechanisms cannot withstand increasingly changing climate patterns, uncontrollable rises in food prices, and chronic conflict on top of years of underinvestment in these vulnerable areas.

     

    I hope that the funds and assistance you are beginning to receive are enough. Increased financial support is vital, not only to save the millions of lives that are in immediate risk, but also to help you to  invest in longer-term interventions that protect people?s assets and supports them to cope and develop resilience to future shocks. In my experience, built into this approach must also be the ability to respond quickly and comprehensively when times will, inevitably, get tough again and a commitment to continue working to prevent crises when times are good.

     

    Over the years we?ve changed the labels that we use to describe the tools we use, to explain the problems, and the solutions available to us, but fundamentally the reasons behind our food security crises have stayed the same.

     

    A real challenge I faced last year was the fact that increasingly the most vulnerable communities in my region are located in the hardest to reach areas. Conflict and insecurity means it was really difficult to reach families who needed our help the most. We have to ensure everyone respects the rights of communities in need to receive assistance. Sometimes this means we have to think outside the box and come up with new ways to reach people. But this doesn?t mean we should compromise our principles. Humanitarian agencies should still deliver quality projects in a more coordinated way and be accountable for what they do.

     

    Our Governments and their partners need to invest resources effectively in the infrastructure necessary to promote resilience in drylands areas, otherwise communities will never be strong enough to cope when times are hard. We cannot continue to neglect these areas. We must find ways to maximize their economic potential and support their traditional agricultural and pastoral methods.

     

    We must also focus on the most vulnerable in our communities. During last year?s food crisis in my region, just as in any major crisis, women and children bore the brunt of the shortages. Out of the 12 million people affected, an estimated 360,000 of them were pregnant women. Mothers are the first to sacrifice feeding themselves to feed their children, and with so many cows and goats dying without water, poor milk supplies left over 2 million children malnourished and struggling to survive.

     

    There is a lot more I could say and a lot more we can do and will need to do, but for now my only hope is that you will keep from making the same mistakes as me. I also hope that I will be able to apply the lessons I learned last year and when (not if) the next drought comes, my people won?t suffer as much as they did in 2011.

     

    Wishing you all the best,

     

     

    Horn of Africa

     


    Bonn, August 16, 2011. On the occasion of World Humanitarian Day, CARE points out that aid workers often cannot provide much needed aid due to insufficient funding. ?In Germany, the willingness to donate money for natural disasters is great. But the response to donation appeals for long-term projects or quiet disasters is far too limited?, says Heribert Scharrenbroich, chairperson of CARE Germany-Luxemburg. However, when natural disasters, hopelessness and violent conflict merge, catastrophes are usually particularly long-lasting. In these types of crises, aid workers of CARE and other organizations are usually lacking the necessary funds for broadly addressing people?s needs.

     

    ?In the Sahel, more than 18 million people presently suffer from malnutrition and hunger. In order to provide them with essential goods such as water, food and shelter, organizations still lack 650 million Euros. This shortage of funding in emergency assistance marks a new and sad record.? Scharrenbroich remarks that pictures of severely undernourished children or exhausted refugees are often essential to generate donations. ?Last year?s famine in the Horn of Africa had been announced by CARE and other aid organizations many months in advance. But it was not until extensive television coverage and media attention that donations were vastly given.?

     

    Emergencies like the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 or Japan?s triple catastrophe in 2011 are covered by the media. The situation is clear and the need of humanitarian assistance evident. Both ensure that people from all over the world donate money for those in need. ?Refugee crises as presently taking place in Syria, however, are of political nature and no sudden natural disaster.  In these cases aid organizations like CARE do not succeed in generating enough donations to help sufficiently and all-embracing.? In Syria, the lack of pictures of affected individuals poses additional challenges.. Many refuse to have their picture be taken because they fear acts of revenge on their family members back home in Syria.

     

    ?For aid workers the situation is of course frustrating. They see the needs of the people their own eyes but have to restrict their help due to insufficient funds.?

     

    Projects focusing on disaster risk prevention are not only more human, but also much cheaper. ?To nurse an undernourished child with special food and medical treatment costs about 56 Euros. In comparison, a famine prevention program in which communities are supported with drought-resistant seeds and functioning wells costs only 70 eurocents?, explains Scharrenbroich. Currently, in the West African country Niger, the families of women, who are engaging in CARE?s VSL groups, are much less affected by droughts.

     

    ?Preventing disasters is particularly effective and efficient. Our aid workers are dependent on the support of our donors, so that they are able to help those forgotten by the world.?


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