Oxfam's EU Advocacy office in Brussels

The forecasts are in for the New Year, and they aren’t looking good. The terrible drought that has gripped the Horn of Africa since mid July 2011 and put the lives of 13 million people in crisis is set to carry on well into 2012. The good news is that if we play our cards right, another disaster at this scale could be avoided.

Right now, the Horn of Africa – Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti – is experiencing the worst food crisis in 60 years. This crisis is the result of a broken global food system of a systematic failure to address the root causes of insecurity. Famines are man-made and therefore preventable.

Today in Warsaw, expert practitioners and policy makers – including European Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs Kristalina Georgieva – met at a high level debate organised by Caritas Europa, Oxfam, Polish Humanitarian Action (PAH) and ONE at the European Development Days to discuss what needs to be done to avoid these mistakes again.

So far the European emergency response has been impressive, with Commissioner Georgieva leading the European Commission and EU member states to increase funding to meet immediate humanitarian needs. But addressing the effects and not the causes of a crisis is not enough.

“We need to pre-empt crises rather than reacting when the disaster hits. To my mind the problem is that we have very powerful forces of nature but we have polices that are not yet quite well connected to face the problem’’ said Commissioner Gerogieva, “That’s why I endorse the Charter to End Extreme Hunger because it is a global commitment to prevent any other famines from happening”.

This groundbreaking charter was launched by leading agencies in September to ensure that this time the right steps are taken to prevent another deadly food crisis of the kind suffered in the Horn of Africa. “I hope it leads to transformative change,” said the Commissioner.

‘We cannot treat a humanitarian crisis as isolated from long term development’ said Fran Equiza, Oxfam’s Regional Director for the Horn of Africa. “Why do we only take care of malnourished children when they are about to die? Why don’t we deal with the problem before? Clearly, morally and economically it is the best thing to do.”
Supporting local, small-scale farmers and pastoralists that already know how to manage the arid land and changing rain patterns is the best way to prepare for drought and protect people from famine. This means more EU investment in local food production and a boosting in the funds for the next EU multi-annual budget (2014-2020) and the European Development Fund (EDF).

EU member states and the European Commission need to commit not just to short term emergency aid, but to longer term assistance and development efforts that will ensure that families can feed themselves now and resist shocks in the future.

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