East Africa famine
Ethiopian farmer Eshete Eneyew threshes maize in Abay, north of Addis Ababa, October 21, 2009. More than a million died during the 1984 famine, and the suffering provoked the biggest outpouring of charity the world has ever seen. Picture taken October 21, 2009. REUTERS/Barry Malone

With the UN warning that both East and the Horn of Africa have been hit by the worst drought in 60 years, international aid agencies have warned of an alarming gap in the food pipeline to reach those most in need.

More than 10 million people are thought to be affected across the East African region and the UN has warned that large swathes of northern Kenya and Somalia are now in the "emergency" category, one phase before what is officially classified as famine.

"Two consecutive poor rainy seasons have resulted in one of the driest years since 1950/51 in many pastoral zones," Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told a media briefing this week.

"There is no likelihood of improvement until 2012."
Child malnutrition rates in the worst affected areas are more than double the emergency threshold of 15 per cent and are expected to rise further, Byrs said.

Aid agencies have also said they are particularly concerned after the humanitarian appeals for Somalia and Kenya, each for about $525 million, are barely 50 per cent funded.

Mr Prasant Naik, Save the Children's Kenya country director described how "rotting animal carcasses dot the road" across many parts of central and northern Kenya.

"Animals desperately seeking water and food are collapsing in exhaustion and the local community cannot clear them fast enough," he added. "There is not even enough meat left on the carcasses to eat."

The sight of dead camels is particularly significant, Mr Prasant said, because they are prized within pastoralist communities as vital to their livelihoods.

"Pastoralists are used to coping with occasional droughts and dry seasons, but these successive droughts have pushed their resiliency to the limit.
"Families are eating only one meal a day at most, and the cheapest food they can find. Without proper, nourishing food, families are weak and vulnerable to disease."

Now the UK-based aid agency Save the Children is urgently appealing for more funds to reach the most vulnerable children.

Following the call of international aid agencies, Britain announced it will increase its aid budget for Ethiopia by sending an extra £38 million, after the country has been hit by drought, which will see the UK's spend on Ethiopian aid rise by more than ten per cent from £330million to £368million.

Fearing a backlash from the public as the government's aid budget is rising while other departments have seen huge reductions, the government has also insisted that the money comes from the existing aid budget rather than from other areas of public expenditure

Announcing the extra cash for the World Food Programme's work in the country, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said: 'Through no fault of its own, the Horn of Africa is experiencing a severe drought caused by the failed rains.

'Britain is acting quickly and decisively in Ethiopia to stop this crisis becoming a catastrophe. The country has made great strides in many areas over the past 30 years and this emergency relief will help to ensure that these gains are not eroded.'

Mr Mitchell urged the Ethiopian Government to provide latest numbers of those affected in the south of the country so relief could be targeted.

He also unveiled extra help for 329,000 malnourished children and treatment for mothers who are pregnant and breastfeeding.

Oxfam's humanitarian director Jane Cocking welcomed the Government's support. She said: 'The money cannot come soon enough. There are already critical and life-threatening food shortages in Ethiopia.

'Two successive poor rains have left millions of people struggling to get food as hundreds of thousands of livestock have died and crops have failed. Other donors now need to follow suit and increase funding before it is too late.'

Matt Wingate of Save the Children said: 'Money pledged by the UK Government will mean that aid agencies can get life-saving help to hundreds of thousands more children and their families.

'Our staff are receiving more and more children on the verge of starvation in our feeding centres every day. We urgently need other rich countries and donors to follow the UK Government's lead and give money now so we can stop children dying across the region.'

Aid agencies have said up to 10 million are at risk after the worst drought in decades hit many countries in the Horn of Africa.

However while the U.N and various aid agencies have called for renewed financial help in the horn of Africa, the African Union once again faded into the background. Despite the continental organisation's programmes, it seems unable to cope with most of the problems faced by the continent and leaves the UN lead the new aid campaign. Countries such as Ethiopia and Somalia and Kenya have recurrently been hit by drought and famine and much more than aid money is needed to truly help those countries in the long run as basic infrastructures and services are nowhere to be found in some of the remote areas. Also at a time where African countries insist they are now les dependent on the West, they should now become more proactive and prove that they are able to efficiently handle conflict resolution, emergency relief and natural catastrophe.

Feeding the malnourished now is a necessity, but what will happen after the aid campaign ends?

The same circle has been going on for the past twenty years. Every time Ethiopia is hit by draught, images of starving children hit the headlines; songs are being made and the UN will probably send one of its Ambassador and Hollywood super star visit one of the camps, but what will happen afterwards?

NGOs are needed but should not try to fill the void left by incompetent governments. Countries like Ethiopia and Somalia need a stable government that is indeed capable of implanting new socio-economic programmes, while the current regimes should be pressured to come up with a relief response plan and not rely solely on western help to deal with their problems.