Oxfam's EU Advocacy office in Brussels

The United Nations has just officially declared two parts of Somalia to be in famine, amid the worst drought in east Africa for 60 years. Malnutrition rates in the Dolo Ado camps for Somali refugees in Ethiopia have been recorded more than four times the level considered an emergency, and in some areas between 60-90 percent of livestock have already died.

In some areas people’s ability to cope with drought has also been undermined by land policies that restrict access to grazing areas, and by the ongoing conflict in Somalia which has destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure and exacerbated the refugee crisis which has forced 135,000 people to flee Somalia this year. Tens of thousands more have had to flee into conflict-torn Mogadishu.

But this crisis has been caused by people and policies as much as nature. Oxfam, who have a presence on the ground in the region say several European governments are guilty of wilful neglect as the aid effort to avert catastrophe in East Africa limps along due to an $800 million shortfall. A massive increase in emergency aid is needed to save lives and protect livelihoods, but governments and donors must also do more to address the issues that make people vulnerable in the first place.

Of the estimated $1 billion needed to stave off a major humanitarian catastrophe, only around $200 million in new money has so far been provided. It is morally indefensible that several rich countries and donors had failed to contribute generously.

While the UK has so far led the way in pledging new aid, the European response has been surprisingly slow, with donors such as Italy and Denmark so far not providing anything new. The French have been strong on words, calling for an Extraordinary G20 meeting on the issue, but have so far failed to back it up with any additional money. Other donors such as Germany and Spain have made initial contributions but these are small and need to be followed up with more resources as soon as possible. Given the scale of the crisis, donors in the rest of the world will also need to pay their share.

With the gravity of the crisis increasing daily, other traditional big donors will need to make comparable contributions to help fill the funding black hole.

We expect the European Commission to announce an additional emergency funding package for the region this week to coincide with the visit of Humanitarian Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva to Kenya. This extra money is most welcome and will come on top of a €5.67 million package for Kenya announced a couple of weeks ago. But much more is needed and this situation is illustrating just how insufficient the overall Commission humanitarian budget is.

“There is no time to waste if we are to avoid massive loss of life. We must not stand by and watch this tragedy unfold before our eyes. The Europeans have been slow to recognise the severity of this crisis, but there is no longer any excuse for inaction,” said Natalia Alonso, Head of Oxfam International’s EU office.

“A crisis of this magnitude must not be allowed to happen again. It is in no way inevitable and solutions do exist. The worst affected areas have endured decades of marginalisation and economic under-development. If more action had been taken earlier we would not now be at the stage where so many people are facing starvation.”

At the same time, Oxfam is calling for a radical shake-up of the international aid system, to break the cycle that leaves the poorest people limping from one crisis to the next.

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