Hunger in the Horn of Africa

I found this blog by Simon Levine at the Overseas Development Institute an interesting discussion on the politics of famine.

It focuses on the hunger ravaging the Horn of Africa, with thousands of Somalis turning up at the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya every day. His main argument is that famines only tend to occur as a result of political problems, and not just because of the failure of the rains.

It’s something journalist colleagues have been debating at length – why is it that aid agencies tend not to act until the last minute, and is it just a simple case of no rain? Certainly in Somalia people’s natural surviving techniques have been devastated by twenty years of war, and now even the UN is forced into delivering aid through camps run by Al-Shabab, the Al-Qaeda affiliated Islamist group widely believed to be responsible for the Kampala World Cup bombings. Without their stranglehold, would pastoralists be able to move to search out better pasture? Perhaps even more interestingly, what has been the impact on local food production capacity of years of food aid being delivered to these areas? A local northern Kenyan politician has spoken out about the Kenyan government’s woeful failure to develop irrigation and sustainable agricultural systems in such a vulnerable region.

Nevertheless help does seem to be getting through to the region, but it’s sad to see most news reports featuring the kinds of images of Africa observers hoped had been left behind in the 1984 Ethiopian famine.

Surely there is a need for a new discourse on the politics of famine, and a better understanding of the traditional methods used by pastoralists to cope with unpredictable rainfall?