This week, humanitarian organizations have launched the largest emergency appeal to date in Africa to raise funds to tackle the food crisis ravaging parts of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. The fact that we reached this point makes me sad and angry.
It saddens me to see the suffering that spreads throughout the region. A Somali colleague described to me this week the image of dead animal carcasses sow roadside, the crowds trying desperately to get what little water is available, and families who have to walk two or more weeks to try to find food , including children, weakened by malnutrition. Nobody should be forced to suffer this way.
But I’m also angry, because there is no reason for this happening again in 2011. I would not be necessary, but appeals for help are vital at this time to save lives.
This crisis, which is already the worst food crisis of the XXI century seem likely to worsen with the dry months ahead, has been caused in part by the lack of rain. In northern Kenya, the last 12 months have been the driest for 60 years. Some areas have had little drops of rain since early 2010.
But the bad rains have been accompanied by bad policies. The most affected areas are among the poorest, least developed and those with greater political marginalization. None of this is a coincidence.
In areas such as Turkana and Wajir, northern Kenya, there is very little infrastructure. There are no water systems to maintain water supply during dry seasons. There are few roads in good condition, making it difficult to access for people to markets. Health centers and schools are also scarce. This means that when one arrives as the current drought, people have great difficulty coping.
Some policies have weakened the ability of active people to cope with these disasters. Traditional migration routes and grazing land that the pastoralists have been used for years in the dry seasons have been sold or reserved for private enterprises, tourism and agriculture on a large scale. Biofuels policies promoted by the EU and the U.S. have made the crops that people need desperately to feed cars instead of people.
The conflict in Somalia has made matters worse by limiting the movement of people and their access to food. In one of the cities we work in Somalia, the only clinic that could be helping people who suffer from drought a few months ago was destroyed during the fighting.
We can not control the weather and we know that droughts continue to plague this region. But we can ensure that these droughts do not result in a tragedy for millions of people. At this point we need emergency help to save lives, but we must also adopt a long-term approach and invest in the development and policies to help vulnerable people to build their future. The construction of a new road or a health center costs a lot now, but in the long term would help avoid major emergency appeals. And we would not see on our television images of starving children and dead animals.
(This entry was posted -in its spanish version- on the Blog 3500Millones in El Pais on 08/07/11 as part of my collaboration with this Blog)