Thursday, August 11, 2011

Horn of Africa: How can the region be better prepared for recurrent drought?

Vinod Thomas in the PovertyMatters blog at the Guardian (UK): The Horn of Africa is facing a humanitarian catastrophe from the worst drought in 60 years. The UN estimates that more than 11 million people need urgent assistance to stay alive. The region has faced droughts every few years, and each time they have set back progress on reducing poverty, disrupted food production systems and jeopardised the lives of millions of people. The sharp rise in food prices this year makes the situation worse. The severity of the drought and its ominous link to climate change this time around deepen the concern over the current devastation.

Immediate relief and recovery is, of course, the urgent priority in a calamity. But the recurrent nature of the crisis, especially in the face of climate change, also highlights the need to build resilience – in two ways. First, by supporting the development of reliable early warning systems and of flexible social safety nets to protect the most vulnerable groups is one. Second, by strengthening agricultural and agribusiness systems by improving farmers' access to drought-resistant varieties of crops, improved rainwater-harvesting technologies and information from weather-forecasting systems, while continuing to increase investment in irrigation development is the other.

On social safety nets, it is important to look at the emerging work and lessons from Ethiopia's experience. Since the famine of 1984, Ethiopia had issued an appeal for humanitarian assistance every year. Following the drought in 2003, the government established the New Coalition for Food Security and sought a new approach to deal with food insecurity. The approach recognised that issuing annual emergency appeals was unsustainable and did not secure timely delivery of food to drought victims.

The Ethiopian government established the Productive Safety Net Programme in 2005. PSNP, a collaborative effort between the Ethiopian government and development partners, aimed to provide transfers to people in chronically food-insecure areas and structured to prevent asset-depletion for households and create additional assets for communities. An impact evaluation in 2008, right after a significant drought, found that PSNP beneficiaries were more likely to be food secure, to borrow for productive purposes, to use improved agricultural technologies, and to operate non-farm-related business activities. PSNP also prevented beneficiary households from sliding deeper into poverty and selling household assets....

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