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Africa: Predictable Emergencies

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Jan 31, 2006 (060131)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"Imagine if your local fire department had to petition the mayor for money every time it needed water to douse a raging fire. That's the predicament faced by anguished humanitarian aid workers when they seek to save lives but have no funds to pay for the water - or medicine, shelter, or food - urgently needed to put out a fire." - Jan Egeland, UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs

Mr. Egeland was speaking in August 2005 of the crisis in Niger, but he could equally well have been referring to the latest emergency due to drought in the Horn of Africa now threatening the lives of more than 5 million people. The issue, as analysts have repeatedly noted, is not the absolute shortage of food in the world, or even on the African continent. It is rather a failure of distribution of available resources to ensure that those most vulnerable to predictable disasters have access to the food they need, either through their own purchasing power or through collective measures such as food relief.

While longer-term solutions depend on addressing fundamental issues of poverty and economic inequality, the system of delivering relief in emergencies also needs repair. One glaring flaw is the fact that funds must be raised after an emergency has already reached lethal proportions. Last year the United Nations created a new Central Emergency Response Fund to address this issue. But so far the Fund has pledges for only $185 million towards its initial target $500 million and the minimum $1 billion estimated to be needed.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from several recent press releases by the World Food Programme on the current crisis in the Horn of Africa, and an October 2005 press release from Oxfam on the emergency response fund.

Current World Food Programme updates are available at For reports from a wide range of agencies, visit For the full Oxfam report, see

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on related issues, see

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

World Food Programme

Excerpts from recent press releases on African food crisis

For more information:
Peter Smerdon WFP/Nairobi
Tel. +254 (0) 20 7622 179 Mob. 254 (0) 733 528 911

Khartoum, 23 January 2006 - As Africa's leaders gather today for their AU summit, WFP is calling on the continent's leaders and international donors to boost their support for its efforts to tackle hunger and poverty in Africa before millions more lives are lost.

Nearly US$2 billion in food aid will be required in 2006 to ward off widespread hunger and starvation.

Huge challenges

Again and again food crises stare Africa in the face and we are ringing the alarm bell right now in the Horn of Africa James Morris, WFP Executive Director "We're afraid that Africa's food crises are becoming accepted as 'normal'.

"As this year gets underway, drought is threatening disaster in two vast regions - the Horn and Southern Africa. "This poses huge challenges to our donors, who are still reeling from the competing emergencies of 2005, both in Africa and elsewhere," said James Morris, WFP Executive Director.

"Again and again food crises stare Africa in the face and we are ringing the alarm bell right now in the Horn of Africa," said Morris, who is making his fifth visit to southern Africa at the end of this month, in his capacity as UN Special Envoy. Food first policy

Food first policy

"We had an incredibly challenging time raising resources for Africa in 2005. Even with record WFP food aid from our donors, we have lost so many children on the continent. "African leaders and all our donors need a food first policy in 2006," Morris said.

Hunger is at its most destructive in Africa where one person in three is malnourished. And the situation is getting worse: the number of undernourished Africans rose by 33.1 million between 1992 and 2002.

According to UNICEF, 38 percent of children under the age of five are stunted, and 28 percent are underweight.

Record hunger levels

WFP is feeding twice as many Africans in crisis than a decade ago.

"These statistics do not augur well for Africa's future and they cannot be ignored, especially since the world has produced enough food for everyone on the planet for decades," said Morris.

"A combination of poverty, conflict, HIV/AIDS, drought and a weakened capacity for government has caused record levels of hunger stretching across the continent, from north to south and from west to east."

Food assistance

In 2006, WFP aims to provide food assistance to some 43 million people across Africa, with a price tag of over US$1.8 billion:

Of the 43 million Africans requiring food assistance, some 35 million are in need of emergency food aid.

The highest numbers of needy to be targeted by WFP are some 18 million in 11 countries of East Africa, where an emerging food crisis caused by drought is threatening the lives of an estimated 5.4 million people across Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti.

In Southern Africa, where HIV/AIDS has hit hardest, WFP seeks to assist 9.2 million people in seven countries. And in West Africa, where war and poverty are the main scourges, WFP anticipates that at least 8.5 million people require urgent food aid in 14 countries across the Sahel region.

Donation shortfall

"While our donors were exceptionally generous last year, providing us with some US$2 billion US dollars to run operations in 40 African countries we were approximately US$550 million short of our requirements for that period" said Morris.

"Each region in Africa has its own problems and suffering the need for humanitarian assistance is almost overwhelming.

"We need aid pledges now. As we've learned repeatedly in the past, delivering late costs far more than delivering now and it costs lives." Morris concluded.

WFP warns of Kenya drought disaster

Nairobi, 25 January 2006 - WFP has given a stark warning of a humanitarian disaster in Kenya because of drought.

WFP said the country would run out of food aid within weeks for 2.5 million people in the drought-stricken north and east unless new donations were received immediately.

"Since our last appeal in December, we have received very little against the growing needs," said WFP Executive Director James Morris.

Insufficient stocks

"We don't have enough for the 1.2 million people we are currently feeding, let alone the expected increase to 2.5 million or more in February," said Morris.

"We are moving whatever food we have to the north and the east," said WFP Kenya Country Director Tesema Negash. "But our stocks are very low and insufficient for February distributions. Without new donations, we will only be able to feed a fraction of these 1.2 million people just when we should be more than doubling that number," he said.

Humanitarian disaster

"We have warned and appealed for months for contributions to save lives in drought-hit Kenya," Negash added. "We are in the midst of an emergency. If we receive no new donations now, it is extremely likely that Kenya will be hit by a humanitarian disaster in the months to come," he said.

WFP requires some 350,000 metric tons of food valued at US$238 million to feed the anticipated 2.5 million people in Kenya this year, but is already short US$43 million to feed just 1.2 million now.

Spreading crisis

The Kenya drought is part of the latest crisis sweeping across the Horn of Africa with 1.4 million people needing emergency food aid from WFP in southern Somalia, 1.5 million people in Ethiopia and 60,000 in Djibouti.

Pastoralists have therefore been unable to migrate to fallback areas to save their livestock. Because of the lack of food and water, livestock particularly cattle, but also sheep, camels, donkeys and goats are dying in large numbers in arid northern Kenya, where pastoralists are entirely dependent on their herds.

Land conflict

Women and children are begging at roadsides and large-scale migrations are underway, leading to growing conflict over land and access to wells.

Pastoralists are resorting to extreme steps, such as killing their newborn calves in the hope that the mother can survive. They are also carrying out mercy killings of livestock before they drop dead.

Erratic rains

This crisis was caused by the failure of the October-December short rains in the north and very erratic and patchy rains in eastern Kenya.

But the impact is compounded because people have lost their ability to cope after five years of drought in much of Kenya since 1999 with a break only in 2003.

WFP and its partners, including the Government of Kenya, are conducting field assessments in the worst drought-affected districts this month to confirm the exact number in need of emergency food aid, but it will be at least 2.5 million people. Full results will be known in early February.

Growing number of needy

"For the hardest-hit districts, information from our field assessments show that the numbers in need of emergency food aid will more than double," Negash said. "The total number will be announced as soon as possible, but the needs are already far in excess of our resources."

Launched by the WFP and the Government in July 2004 after poor rains in eastern, southern and parts of northern Kenya, the drought emergency operation was extended in September for six months for 1.2 million people.

WFP is also feeding more than one million school children - most of them in drought-affected areas.

West Africa

Dakar, 16 January 2006 - WFP has called on the international community to rally strongly behind its efforts to tackle hunger and poverty in West Africa, the poorest region of the world.

In 2006, WFP is aiming to feed at least ten million people in West Africa with over 300,000 metric tons of food at a cost of approximately US$237 million.

To date, only US$18.4 million has been confirmed or about eight percent of total requirements.

"Huge job"

"Only last year we saw in Niger what happens when poverty is allowed to take root and fester livelihoods collapse and people, especially young children, suffer terribly and even die," said WFP Senior Deputy Executive Director, Jean-Jacques Graisse, who is on mission to Dakar.

"Conflict has also destroyed lives and many still need assistance to deal with the immediate consequences of violence and displacement or to pick up the pieces as peace returns. WFP has a huge job to do in 2006," he said.

Difficult year

Despite a good harvest at the end of 2005, the Sahel region will face another difficult year.

Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso and particularly Niger all suffered great hardship during the 2005 'hunger season' and the poorest are likely to find themselves in a precarious situation again, their survival strategies exhausted and their purchasing power depleted.

In Niger in particular, crushing poverty and crippling debt continue to undermine the ability of rural families to fend for themselves.

Emergency operation

WFP's emergency operation is currently focused on maintaining assistance to malnourished children. It also includes food-for-work projects and the replenishment of cereal banks in poor villages to reinforce people's ability to withstand another tough year.

However, WFP's current operation in Niger still requires nearly US$22 million to avoid a break in food supply as early as next month.

Deeper into poverty

"The Sahel region has for too long been allowed to slip deeper and deeper into poverty, despite relative stability and democratic government.

"Access to food is at the very heart of human existence and yet poverty means that millions of people right here in West Africa wake up each day uncertain how they are going to feed themselves," said Graisse.

Positive turn

Access to food is at the very heart of human existence and yet poverty means that millions of people right here in West Africa wake up each day uncertain how they are going to feed themselves The future of Liberia took a positive turn with the successful conclusion of elections at the end of 2005, closing the chapter on a 14-year war that tore the country apart.

However, society and infrastructure remain traumatised and dislocated and in order to ensure a successful recovery, WFP is feeding about 700,000 people in the country.

This includes at least 50,000 people who fled their homes during the conflict to camps within Liberia and have yet to be resettled, and another 75,000 refugees in neighbouring countries still to return home under WFP assistance.

Ivory Coast

While Liberia recovers, Ivory Coast teeters between peace and a renewed conflict that has the potential to destabilise much of the region.

WFP's current operation targeting nearly one million food-insecure people is reinforced by a contingency plan to feed an additional 350,000 ready to roll out at short notice should the situation deteriorate rapidly.

Eastern Chad

The worrying recent deterioration in security in eastern Chad is yet to have an impact on food deliveries to 12 camps that are home to over 200,000 refugees from Sudan's Darfur conflict, but an escalation of hostilities could have a dramatic impact on operations.

Insecurity in the northern reaches of the Central African Republic also increased the number of refugees crossing into southern Chad to over 40,000.


Even stable countries making good economic progress such as Senegal have significant food and nutrition needs.

Over the next five years, WFP is planning to double the number of school children receiving free meals to a quarter of a million as part of efforts to improve nutrition and access to primary education in the country.

Across the region

In the West African region, WFP also has operations in Benin, Cape Verde, Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe and The Gambia a total of 18 offices.

All countries in which WFP has offices are classified as low-income, food-deficit. Fourteen are among the bottom 20 percent of UNDP's Human Development Index, the lowest seven of which are all West African countries.

An estimated 3.2 million children under five-years-old in the region suffer from acute malnutrition and nine million from chronic malnutrition.

Overwhelming need

"Almost every social and economic indicator sees West African countries at the base of the list. The need for humanitarian assistance is in many cases overwhelming, but the ability to deliver it is not always guaranteed.

"We need the resources to do so as we've learned time and time again, delivering late costs far more than delivering now," Graisse said.

Vital $1 billion UN emergency fund seriously underfunded

Oxfam press release - 24 October 2005

Governments have so far failed to respond to the urgent need for a one billion dollar global emergency fund, according to a new briefing paper published by Oxfam International today [Predictable funding for humanitarian emergencies: a challenge to donors]. The failure to contribute to the fund continues, despite recent humanitarian disasters exposing major shortcomings in governments' international responses.

Lack of funding for the most recent crisis in Pakistan (where, as of 20 October, the UN appeal is only 25 per cent funded) and other crises, including the Niger food crisis, has demonstrated why a fully funded UN global emergency fund that would make resources available immediately is so essential.

Greg Puley, Oxfam's policy advisor, said that rich donor governments including the US, Belgium, Italy, France, Canada and Australia have so far failed to pledge a cent to the fund.

"This global emergency fund could stop some disasters, like famines, from spiralling out of control. For disasters that are unstoppable, it could save thousands of lives by speeding up the world's response. This year, too many people have died in emergencies because money simply hasn't arrived," said Puley. "Two weeks after the Pakistan earthquake, the UN is having to spend time begging for funds instead of being able to concentrate solely on saving lives. A UN global emergency fund would help change this for good."

Oxfam's report, Predictable Funding for Humanitarian Emergencies: a Challenge to Donors, shows that this global fund, formally called the Central Emergency Revolving Fund (CERF), is still more than 80 per cent away from Oxfam's target of US$1 billion. Each year there is a funding shortfall to UN humanitarian appeals of at least US$1 billion.

Only seven governments - UK, Sweden, Norway, Netherlands, Ireland, Switzerland and Luxembourg - have pledged money to date. The total pledges to the CERF fund so far amount to only US$187 million. However, Oxfam estimates that a fund of US$1billion is needed to ensure that the UN can respond immediately to future disasters. Oxfam is stressing that this additional US$1billion which amounts to less than US$1 per year for each person in the rich OECD countries must come on top of governments existing aid budgets.

The Oxfam report has calculated how much each government should contribute to the fund according to the size of their economy, in order to reach the target of US$1billion. Oxfam is calling on governments to make pledges in advance of the UN General Assembly discussion of the issue in late November.

"The fact that only seven governments have contributed so far is disappointing. If this fund is to save all of the lives that it could, rich countries like the US, Belgium, Italy, France, Canada and Australia must support it. Continued apathy will mean more people die unnecessarily in future disasters. It's time to learn the lessons of the past and act on them," said Greg Puley, Oxfam's policy advisor.

As well as the inadequate response to the Pakistan Earthquake, the Oxfam report also points to the example of the food crisis in Niger this year. Despite being warned of a food shortage months in advance and the UN launching an emergency appeal, donor governments failed to pledge significant funds until the media reported children dying from malnutrition.

In contrast to the current system in which governments often take months to respond to UN appeals, the new system would make money available in hours. It would also mean that crises that never make the headlines, like those in Northern Uganda or the Democratic Republic of the Congo also get their fair share of attention.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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