Tag: Horn of Africa

Resilience and the Future of Pastoralism in the Horn – part V (of the series on the 2011 East African drought)

Does pastoralism — the livelihood of semi-nomadic animal herders like the Maasai — have a future in East Africa? In my concluding post on the famine in the Horn of Africa, it seems like a fair question to ask, no more controversial than whether Somalia should be divided into several countries (see here, here, here, and here for previous posts).

I ask this because much of the commentary on the current crisis in the Horn of Africa suggests that “development” is the long-term solution for the region to ward off the potential for recurrent crisis. However, according to FEWS NET, parts of Ethiopia affected by the drought have lost 60 to 80% of their cattle, 25 to 30% of their sheep and goats, and 25 to 40% of the camels. I can only imagine that the situation is more dire in Somalia. Indeed, the region has been buffeted by droughts over the last 10 years, which has likely compounded the effects of this year’s drought.

Source: Cecchi et al. 2009

Before I engage the question at hand, the development challenge that people have identified essentially encompasses a suite of initiatives that would buffer communities from the adverse effects of future weather shocks. In short, development in these arid drylands of East Africa would largely build resilience. Weather shocks would have less severe consequences, and communities would bounce back faster.

Resilience and Capacity Building

Allan Jury from the World Food Programme in a recent Brookings forum suggested that the current crisis provides a window in to the differential preparedness and capacity of countries in the region. While Kenya is in a significantly better position than Somalia, Ethiopia and Uganda have done more to support local community resilience than Kenya:

I think one point, I think — we are talking Somalia. But I do think it’s important to say that, in Ethiopia, and to a lesser extent, in Kenya and certainly Uganda where there have been programs of the type, many programs of the type that Oxfam was talking about — long-term resiliency-building programs designed to build community resiliency — the overall levels of affected people are far less than one would’ve expected with a similar level of drought.

He suggested that political instability in Kenya impeded its preparedness:

And I think a close look, particularly at Ethiopia, where perhaps more of that work in resiliency has been done, Kenya had some good successes — but frankly, their political problems over the last five or six years have made that more difficult to sustain — I think shows it isn’t business as usual.

What kinds of preparations have been most useful? The Economist profiled a number of initiatives:

For the past few years the Ethiopian government, the WFP and others have been running hunger-relief programmes which give out not only food aid but seeds and help to turn wasteland into productive acres. The result, says Josette Sheeran, the WFP’s boss, is that “we have one-third the number of people suffering from the emergency than we might have done [in Ethiopia].” Kenya has kept its school-meal programme running in the drought-stricken areas, so families know their children will get at least a meal a day. In 1984-85 famine ravaged the Karamoja region of eastern Uganda, which shares the same dryland climate as Somalia and Ethiopia. It might well fall into famine again this year. But Karamoja has had a lot of “food aid-plus” projects and so far is not on the WFP’s list of places in emergency need. 

While Ethiopia has been giving relatively high marks for its performance, a BBC Newsnight report released two weeks ago suggested that the government is withholding aid from farmers in the Ogaden region in southern Ethiopia for failure to support the ruling government. The government denied the allegations, labeled the report as “unbalanced.”

At least two people I talked to who have recently been in Ethiopia suggest that the drought is not getting that much national attention there. In light of the BBC story, donors are likely going to have to take a closer look at Ethiopia’s practices and exercise more oversight over how the more than $3 billion in foreign assistance the country receives annually is spent.

That said, no small part of that $3 billion has helped Ethiopia with its social safety net that has provided support for about 7 million people. The program has included cash transfers to poor people in exchange for work, some cash transfers for families without labor, drought risk financing, and a number of measures to improve agriculture (see here and here). Observers credit this program for preventing the situation in Ethiopia from becoming anything like Somalia. 

What is the Future of Pastoralism?

While programs like the social safety net in Ethiopia sound very promising, I wonder how well development programs intended to help pastoral communities retain their way of life are working. I’m not sure what the basis of livelihoods is of all the 11 plus million people suffering in the current crisis, but a sizable proportion of them if not a majority are pastoralists.

I have distinct but perhaps ill-informed worries that this is not a lifestyle that meshes well with the modern age of sovereign borders, population increase, and more sedentary farming. Their lifestyle, based on seasonal movement to watering holes and grazing lands and periodic cattle raiding, is increasingly problematic, particularly as a lot of these communities are well-armed. They fight with each other over cattle and clash with farmers over grazing and water rights. Even if border regions between countries are porous, pastoralist movements between countries may be more constrained than they were in the past.  

In our research trip to Kenya in November 2010, most of the organizations we spoke with — the World Food Programme, FAO, the Red Cross, FEWS NET, UNHCR, and the International Organization for Migration — were all incredibly involved in food security programs in the agro-pastoralist areas of the region, Uganda (Karamoja), southern Sudan, Northern and Eastern Kenya (particularly Turkana), southern Ethiopia (Ogaden), and southern Somalia.

The map below of the emergency response in Kenya to the drought mirrors the organizations we talked to.

The interventions of these international organizations somewhat compensated for historic marginalization of these communities. Programs included income diversification, the construction of abattoirs, drought resistant agriculture, irrigation schemes, livestock de-stocking programs, livestock diversification efforts, cash transfers, livestock disease management, among a number of other efforts.

Many of these areas are less densely populated, marginal areas whose people are largely excluded from political power. But the problems go deeper than their lack of political access. As Mukhisa Kituyi, director of Kenya’s Institute of Governance, points out:

Predictably, the tired cliché that government is deliberately marginalising pastoralists is finding political amplification from the talking classes….But finger-pointing at government failure and celebrating perches of irrigated fields and urban concentrations as solutions, may over-simplify the monumental prolems of our rangelands.

Kituyi suggested that historically the cycle of abundance and drought led to the deaths of the most vulnerable animals and people but:

Over recent decades, we have fashioned a system where extreme droughts lead to famine relief centres where people who would otherwise have died receive food and housing. We have no way of giving them a new livelihood as their animals are wiped out by drought and theft. After the drought, they have no stock to return to pastoralism. They live on the margins of a pastoral economy but are sustained by food aid. 

The only long-term solutions from his perspective are skills for the younger generation and “totally new livelihoods for those sloughed off the traditional economy.”
Pastoralists at an Ethiopian watering hole, photo: Peter Little

Kituyi seems to suggest that with food aid it is now possible for more people to live in these areas than the carrying capacity of the region would otherwise permit. For example, Turkana district in northern Kenya, site of one of the country’s main relief nearly doubled in population from the 1999 census to 2009 census, from 450,860 people to 855,399. Of course, population growth alone does not suggest a region had grown beyond its ability to support itself. Increased agricultural yields within the district and the ability to buy food from surrounding areas could sustain Turkana’s population, but the district, with 94.3% poverty, is Kenya’s poorest.

Is this the future of pastoralism?
Photos from the Guardian and the 2011 Future of Pastoralism conference

Stephen Sandford, a prominent scholar on pastoralism, echoed these concerns in 2006 (!) advancing the thesis that there are “Too many people too few livestock.” Steve McDowell of the Red Cross described the problem in terms of population growth of animals and humans with insufficient technical innovation to sustain them both:

As a result of a dramatic increase in the region’s population over several decades, five times as many families in pastoral communities have been trying to raise five times as many animals.

In Sandford’s view, the problem goes beyond investing in alternative livelihoods:

Most development organisations have accepted the current conventional wisdom that sound pastoral development requires policies and programs that protect pastoralists’ property rights, facilitate herd mobility, provide services (e.g. animal health) in a way that is designed to fit pastoral conditions, and place decision-making powers and control in the hands of pastoralists and their institutions. I strongly agree that those policies are needed. But they are no longer enough. 

NGOs, donors and governments need to accept that what is afflicting pastoral GHA is not just a series of weather-induced independent crises requiring occasional emergency relief but a continuing structural (fundamental-imbalance) problem. 

Other observers believe the problems have less to do with pastoralism than with how pastoralists have been marginalized and their traditional practices usurped by governments and more influential societal groups. Simon Levine of the UK-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI) sees pastoralism as an efficient and ecologically appropriate lifestyle in the Horn. He places the blame on government policy that limits their mobility and encourages farming in areas traditionally reserved for grazing:

Famines don’t occur in pastoral areas when rains fail unless they have other problems. Crises occur when pastoralists’ migration patterns are disrupted and they can’t access reserve pastures and water sources. This is happening when governments refuse to allow pastoralists to move over the extensive areas they need to cover to cope with failed rains or because of conflict. This is the problem now: conflict in Somalia is also preventing pastoralists from Kenya and Ethiopia from going to their drought reserve area, and conflict in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia is preventing pastoralists from accessing their good grazing lands (in the hawd).

Helen de Jode, who has written on livestock production in Africa’s drylands for the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), makes a similar argument. She suggested in a recent Guardian opinion piece that the rhythms of pastoralism have been disrupted by the modern world, making it harder for pastoralists to cope in times of drought:

But in recent decades vast areas of the pastoralist land in the Horn of Africa have been taken over by agriculture and large-scale commercial farms – often in the key strategic riverine areas previously reserved for times of drought. This has undermined the whole system and reduced yields of milk and meat.

The question I have is whether or not pastoralism as a way of life can be reconciled with these forces of modernity. I don’t have an obvious answer to this question, but it’s hard to see a pathway for pastoralists to be on the winning side of history here.

For a more extensive debate on the future of pastoralism, see this exchange here from Future Agricultures Consortium (FAC) and the research produced by this March 2011 conference hosted by FAC and the Feinstein International Center from Tufts University. 


Famine and Conflict Resolution in Somalia – part IV (on the 2011 East African drought)

So, I mentioned in a previous post on the debt ceiling that my wife and I were expecting the birth of our first child. Our son, Guy William, was born this past week, and I couldn’t resist sharing our news. His namesake is my friend Guy Hughes, who died tragically five years ago in a climbing accident.

Guy was a tireless advocate for global justice, and I have no doubt that he would have fiercely been defending the needs of those suffering from the famine but with organizational panache, sensitivity to the inherent humanity of the people in the region, and appreciation of the wider currents in local and global politics that shape these unfolding events for both good and ill.

I suppose the birth of our son and the famine in Somalia are coupled in my mind since a disproportionate share of those affected by the current drought are children. Maybe it is a little maudlin, but I have a new appreciation for the lengths to which people will go to protect their children.

Plumpy’nut Goodness
So, with these thoughts and associations, in my fourth post on the crisis in the Horn, I wanted to write about the region’s long-term needs and how to transition from crisis management to conflict resolution. In my first post, I assessed the role climate change had played, if any, in the current crisis. In my second, I examined the drought signal and politics as causes of the famine. In my third post, I focused on what was needed in the short-run in terms of emergency finance, access, and sources of food. This one examines conflict resolution. Because I’ve been too long-winded in this post (shock!), I’ve got a fifth post in the works on the future of pastoralism.

The Longer-Run: Conflict Resolution

The political troubles of Somalia have lasted long enough that whole generations of people have been displaced for the entirety of their lives. Indeed, the refugee camps in Dadaab, Kenya — which were built for 90,000 and are now swollen to 440,000, mostly Somalis — have been in existence for 20 years. Together, recurrent drought and Somalia’s failed state make the country chronically vulnerable. With the mass exodus of refugees, those problems cannot be contained within Somalia. Kenya and Ethiopia have also been buffeted by the drought but have in place better emergency response measures to weather the crisis.

While a well functioning state in Somalia is a distant prospect, there may be a road to a more stable Somalia, which would serve the region and the world well, perhaps leading to fewer instances of piracy, terrorist attacks like those in Uganda last year, smaller numbers of refugees, and reduced demands for emergency relief.

In my second post, I argued that drought was a major driver of the current crisis and we should be careful about over-emphasizing the political role. That said, compared to the climate, governance failure in Somalia may potentially be more tractable to human intervention (though some people might think building a functioning Somali state to be at least as immune to positive human agency as altering the climate). Given the talents of the Somali diaspora and the relative calm in semi-autonomous regions of Somalia, namely Puntland and Somaliland, we should be careful about writing the country off. I am persuaded by the gifted rapper/singer K’naan — who was absolutely eloquent this past week on Anderson Cooper — that Somalia’s current situation is not its destiny nor how its people want to be seen.

The Blame Game: The International Community and Somali’s Governance
Donald Kaberuka, the president of the African Development Bank, suggested the international community was to blame for the current crisis:

While this is a tragedy triggered by the worst drought in 60 years, it is largely about our collective failure to end the Somali civil war.

Leaving aside the physical effects wrought by drought, one could go further and blame the United States and Ethiopia for creating the context in Somalia for al Shabaab to flourish by their vigorous campaign to oust the Union of Islamic Courts in the name of counter-terrorism (see this 2006 opinion piece by Salim Lone). Indeed, Bronwyn Bruton in a 2010 special report for CFR (and in shorter form in Foreign Affairs) suggested that the U.S. strategy of trying to prevent Somalia from becoming a source of terrorist attacks on the United States has:

… been counterproductive, alienating large parts of the Somali population and polarizing Somalia’s diverse Muslim community into “moderate” and “extremist” camps. 

Indeed, the open blessing of the TFG by the United States and other Western countries has perversely served to isolate the government and, at the same time, to propel cooperation among previously fractured and quarrelsome extremist groups. 

She’s described U.S. efforts as a failed policy of state-building that lacked sufficient support and resources to be viable. More recently, in June 2011 Congressional testimony, she argued that support for the transitional government was wholly flawed:

international efforts to impose a central government on Somalia since 2004 have not only catalyzed the re-emergence of indigenous radical groups in the Horn of Africa, but have actively sustained them.   

While identifying the source of blame for the current situation may not be all the productive, understanding that external meddling in Somalia’s affairs has had a destabilizing influence on the trajectory on the country’s governance is a welcome antidote to analyses that simplistically bash Somalia’s leaders for failing to get their act together. While that is surely true, that is not the whole story.

What Should the International Community Do?
Though the spillover effects of the drought and refugees may have changed the calculus of the international community, I doubt that outside actors possess sufficient will or capacity to resolve the conflict inside Somalia, but with al Shabaab discredited by its opposition to famine relief, local actors may be poised to push the country on a better path.

I am just not sure who those local forces of more positive change are, particularly in the south. Even if the 9,000 African Union peacekeepers force is enhanced, the credibility of the Somali transitional government is so low that it is hard to imagine that they will take advantage of al Shabaab’s exodus from Mogadishu to assert control over the city and/or beyond.

Source: Bruton 2009

Publications by the International Crisis Group and reports by other observers of Somalia have one thing in common — it seems as if no one can quite envision a viable approach, though all recognize that Somalia will be characterized by devolution of authority on a regional, local, and clan basis.

My post on governance and famine notwithstanding, parts of northern Somalia — outside of al Shabaab’s control including Somaliland and Puntland — are less affected by the drought, despite being drier parts of the country, because they have functioning semi-autonomous governments in place.

On some level, this suggests a federal solution is likely to lead to a more stable Somalia, but it also raises the question, “why not support partition”? There are some ready answers that may explain why division of the country might not be desirable. The slow rate of state fragmentation in Africa, given the haphazard placement of colonial borders, has been a great source of academic debate (see Jackson and RosbergHerbstThies), with scholars suggesting that weak states are well-served by keeping borders, however problematic, as they were at independence. Revisiting weak states’ borders could be a problem for many countries across the continent.

Outside actors are also likely to resist revision of sovereign borders as the process can be expected to be quite messy, necessitating the active presence of foreign peacekeepers or assistance. With Ethiopia and Eritrea having had a violent divorce and Sudan in the process of its own potentially violent cleavage into two, it is no wonder that the prospect of another Horn state partition project may be unattractive.

The creation of UN and/or NATO sanctioned microstates like East Timor and Kosovo raises difficult questions about what is required for a viable state in the 21st century (Allen Buchanan’s work in this regard is very interesting). While outright statehood may be undesirable, the international community needs to offer what Dan Byman and Charles King call these “phantom states” a path to international recognition and legitimacy in exchange for better behavior. Even as Somaliland is recognized as being less affected by the current drought, the north of Somalia has been the leading source of piracy in the gulf of Aden.

This doesn’t leave the international community with that many viable options. Bruton counsels against inflating the AU force, particularly from neighboring countries who are not seen as neutral to the conflict. That said, it does seem like there is some favorable momentum with al Shabaab’s departure from Mogadishu and the death of some of its senior leadership.

Again, Bruton counsels on focusing on development projects, including employment programs that might provide would-be fighters with other sources of income, and local organizations for legitimacy. Efforts to resolve tensions over grazing and water rights she noted have been particularly successful. The local NGO SAACID is frequently mentioned as an effective organization that has delivered assistance, conducted garbage collection, established demobilization and demilitarization programs, among other efforts.

Long before the famine, she had been advocating such a strategy of “constructive disengagement” or more provocatively still “development with regard to governance.” Such a strategy would try to do less in terms of state-building and to focus on limited goals. In the midst of the famine, this may be harder to achieve since the humanitarian needs of the situation suggests more of a foreign presence in the short-run. At root, her strategy, if it is the right one, would avoid picking local winners. Maybe the less is more approach to state building will work.

What the International Community Should NOT Do
While it isn’t quite clear what to do in Somalia in terms of the long-term project of governance and state-building, there are some bad ideas floating around that I think would make both the famine and  resolution of the conflict in Somalia worse. Charles Kenny posted a provocative post suggesting those responsible for preventing the delivery of aid should be held responsible for crimes against humanity:

As a result, famine deaths in the modern world are almost always the result of deliberate acts on the part of governing authorities. That is why widespread starvation is a crime against humanity and the leaders who abet it should be tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC). 

[Referencing Sudan] Some commenters warned that the warrant would make negotiating with Bashir over access for humanitarian relief in the region all the more complex.

But in the case of al-Shabab such concerns appear less pressing. As the group is widely recognized as a terror organization, with its high-ranking officers already targets of U.S. drone strikes, it hardly seems likely that the international community has much to lose here.  

So now would be as good a time as any to set a precedent with a U.N. Security Council referral of al-Shabab’s leadership to the ICC, on the grounds of crimes against humanity by method of mass starvation. That would make clear the international community fully understands that famine is not an act of God, but an act of mass murder.

While this may have some immediate appeal for those legitimately outraged by segments of al Shabab that have impeded access by relief groups in Somalia, it does not strike me as helpful and more likely to be counter-productive (for some related Duck commentary on this idea, see Alana Tiemessen’s post).

As Bruton argues, it is unclear if there is even a command structure among al Shabaab, so which individuals would be subject to these charges? Rashid Abdi of the International Crisis Group (ICG) made a similar point:

We should be cautious in saying, “al-Shabaab did this; al-Shabaab said that.” There’ s no longer one al-Shabaab; you are talking of many al-Shabaabs.

There are 9,000 African Union soldiers in parts of Mogadishu (though potentially more). Who would be tasked to go after these malefactors preventing aid access? In recent years, subjects have been caught by international courts long after the conflict has ended to impose the victory’s justice on Milosevic and Mladic and some of the Hutu leaders of the Rwandan genocide.

While the transitional government and the AU have had some victories in recent weeks, the battle for Somalia, as J. Peter Pham argued, has not led to an al Shabaab rout, though their local support appears to be on the wane. Indeed, as Bruton argues in her various publications, international efforts to target the Islamic Courts in Somalia led to nationalist sympathies in support of more extreme groups like al Shabaab. Going after al Shabaab vigorously through some legal process might merely serve to reenergize the group.

Similarly, as EJ Hogendoorn and Ben Dalton of the ICG noted, segments of al Shabaab are willing to allow aid groups through, and indeed, a number of Somali relief groups continued to provide aid even after many of the major international organizations left in the past couple of years due to violence. Trying to pursue a legal process against al Shabaab leaders in the midst of a famine seems like a careless diversion of attention from the delivery of aid to people who need it now, even if it means working with unsavory characters from al Shabaab.

John Hirsch argued in Foreign Policy that the conflict in Somalia in the early 1990s did not stop the international community from working with local warlords including their later antagonist Mohamed Aideed to deliver aid. Whatever happened later with Black Hawk Down, the relief mission initially saved hundreds of thousands of lives. While the militancy and opposition of elements of al Shabaab to emergency aid has been problematic, that is not the whole story:

A first step would be to identify moderate elements of al-Shabab who have reportedly facilitated humanitarian relief. It would be important in these discussions to seek commitments to both ensuring the safety of the humanitarian aid workers and preventing or at least minimizing the diversion of food supplies to al-Shabab’s fighters.

As satisfying as it is to suggest that the international community go after the leaders of al Shabaab through the ICC, that won’t save any Somalis from dying from the current famine. As Rashid Abdi suggests:

If that means negotiating with al-Shabaab, so be it. It is actually more moral to engage al-Shabaab in that than anything else, to save millions of lives. 


Famine, Climate Change, and the Horn of Africa – part III

In this third post about the Horn of Africa and the ongoing famine, I thought I’d address what should be done, which seems appropriate given the visit today to the region by a team of U.S. officials, including Jill Biden (wife of the vice president), USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, among others. My first two posts assessed (part 1) whether or not climate change could be implicated in the current drought (uncertain) and (part 2) the relative causal weight of the drought itself compared to politics in the overall famine (drought itself more important than some seem to believe). In this post, I examine what should be done in the short-run. I’m going to leave long-run issues associated with state capacity and resilience and the future of pastoralism for a fourth post.

The Short-Run: Emergency Relief

In the short-run, the critical issues are finance and access. Where aid groups are sourcing emergency food aid is an important issue that has long-run implications.

Obviously, in the short-run, the people need help in terms of emergency assistance. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has put out appeals for nearly $2.5 billion dollars for the region, of which about 45% has been funded (though slightly more than 50% if you include funds raised for Ethiopia at the beginning of this year). The United States is by far the largest donor, having committed/contributed nearly $460 million.

Funding Status: 2011 Horn of Africa Drought according to the Financial Tracking Service (FTS)

The African Union’s fundraising conference to discuss the need was inexplicably postponed from last week until August 25th, but perhaps this shortfall will be partially met in a few weeks time if not sooner.

For people reading this blogpost who want to help, there are a number of different NGOs and international organizations working in the region worthy of your support, most of them the usual suspects in humanitarian relief like Doctors without Borders, the Red Cross/Red Crescent, and the World Food Programme. The ONE campaign has compiled a list of different organizations. For those interested in Ethiopia in particular, an Austin-based charity Glimmer of Hope has extensive experience working there and has launched an emergency appeal.

However, money alone is not the answer. There are strategic choices associated with how to ensure emergency relief gets to the people in the short-run. Many of these short-run decisions will have a bearing on a number of long-run concerns, including how (and whether) displaced populations can return home and resume their livelihoods and whether any semblance of a functional state can be restored to Somalia.

Some short-run issues have been partially dealt with. In mid July, after a protracted delay, the Kenyan government finally agreed to open Ifo II, a refugee camp that can hold 80,000, which should ease some of the pressure on the other three camps in the Kenyan town of Dadaab (though the camp had yet to open as of July 28). It is less than ideal to have refugees streaming into Kenya or Ethiopia with limited prospects of ever returning home. The journey itself is extremely dangerous for the migrants, and life for them in the camps, particularly if prolonged with no possibility of broader mobility in the host country, cannot be all that pleasant. However, such are the hazards of staying in Somalia that people have been willing to risk the trip.

Given the limits imposed by the al Shabaab militia on aid groups operating in Somalia, Robert Paarlberg argued that:

The best policy option that the international community has available to it in Somalia is to support as much as possible the feeding operations now underway in the sizeable territories not controlled by Al-Shabab.

Recent events suggest there may be more scope for aid delivery in Somalia, even in al Shabaab controlled areas. On August 2nd, the U.S. government lifted the enforcement of sanctions for groups funded by the U.S. government against working with al Shabaab (because of the group’s presence on the State Department’s terrorist group watch list). That said, U.S.-based aid groups that receive funding from non-U.S. government sources worry that the new guidelines will not shield them from the anti-terror laws.

While there are encouraging reports that the first airlift of food aid arrived in Somalia, stories on the ground about the distribution of aid raise worrisome questions. Late last week, seven people were killed when a Mogadishu relief camp was set upon by people intent on looting, possibly including government soldiers.

Al Shabaab’s resistance to assistance may be starting to change as the militia loses popularity with locals given the draconian restrictions the group imposed on aid workers (including violent attacks). The group itself has fragmented into factions, some more willing to allow aid workers in to the country. On Saturday August 6th, Shabaab fighters vacated Mogadishu, leaving the city in the complete control of the weak Transitional Federal Government (TFG) for the first time in years, raising hopes that the 100,000 new internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have descended upon Somalia’s capital can finally receive assistance relatively unimpeded. Al Shabaab’s long-run intentions remain unclear, as their retreat appears to have been tactical.

With the Shabaab departure from Mogadishu, the TFG in particular — assisted by the 9,000 African Union troops in Mogadishu — has a limited opportunity to burnish its badly tarnished reputation and secure control of the capital (though few should have any illusions about its capacity or the public-mindedness of its leaders).

Sourcing Food Aid
While finance and access issues are important, decisions made now may affect long-run incentives in the region, particularly with respect to agricultural production. CFR’s Stewart Patrick suggests America’s policies of relief may be part of the problem. Referencing 2009 work by his colleague Laurie Garrett, Patrick notes that U.S. policies of food aid have undermined local agricultural capacity by airlifting U.S.-grown agricultural supplies rather than relying on regional food sources, as other donors have increasingly done.

U.S. food aid procurement practices are slowly starting to change, beginning with the 2008 Farm Bill which authorized $60 million for a pilot project on Local and Regional Procurement (LRP). Prompted by a 2009 GAO report that suggested local purchase of food could be significantly cheaper and faster to deliver to needy areas, the U.S. has been experimenting with cash-based food assistance schemes, local and regional procurement, and food vouchers through the Emergency Food Security Program (EFSP).

GAO 2009

Through June 29, 2011, FY 2010 and FY 2011 expenditures reached $339 million, with Pakistan being the main beneficiary ($182 million) followed by Haiti ($47 million), Niger ($26.8 million), and Kenya ($20 million). Given that the U.S. provided $2.9 billion in food assistance in FY 2009, this amount of regional procurement is obviously a drop in the bucket.

Given that totals of regional procurement through the EFSP mechanism are relatively recent, this also implies that most of the food aid in the current crisis is being brought in from afar through traditional mechanisms of in-kind donations.

Even if it were desirable to buy more food regionally, it’s unclear given the wider problem of spiking food prices whether there is regional capacity to produce and distribute enough food. Tanzania reported a surplus of 1.7 million tonnes of food that it is willing to export (though I’m not sure how that relates to total need). Kenya for its part has reported food surpluses in parts of the country of such produce as cabbage and potatoes, but the country lacks storage and transportation infrastructure to get their products to needed areas without spoiling.

Plumpy: Fortified Peanut Paste

Issues of inadequate infrastructure obviously cannot be resolved in the next few weeks. However, there may be opportunities, as in Tanzania, where more local sourcing of food could be appropriate. While local food sources are important, the nutritional needs of people in the region are such that the World Food Programme is providing fortified emergency rations, such as Plumpy’Sup peanut paste, sprinkles of micronutrients, and high energy biscuits.

While some countries such as Malawi have factories that produce so-called ready to use therapeautic food (RUTF), the production capacity of the rest of the continent may be limited. In 2010, there were 14 suppliers of RUTF that UNICEF used to supply Africa, seven global suppliers (including a South African firm) and seven local suppliers (one in Niger, one in Ethiopia, two in Malawi, one in DR Congo, one in Madagascar, and another in Mozambique). Given limited production capacity, the specialized food needs of populations may require airlift of these supplies into Somalia and surrounding countries with food grown outside the region. However, over the longer run, this is a less satisfactory situation, given that food aid may depress local incentives for food production.

Thinking about the Long-run
As many observers have noted, media and resources disproportionately flow to this region when there are emergencies, which surely does immediate good in preventing starvation (and enhances the prestige of relief groups). However, whether these emergency interventions facilitate a transition from crisis to development and state capacity is less clear. As resources flow to the region, current programs have to quickly envision the measures that would make the next crisis less likely. Oxfam’s Semhar Araia made the case for such a response in a recent Brookings forum:

So what’s needed in the future is international community having an agenda that also includes a long-term response. The lack of long-term economic development in this region has meant that we’ve seen a series of short-term humanitarian interventions and emergency responses and a failure to really establish and strengthen the infrastructure for economic development.

Pierre Salignon of Doctors without Borders made the point more trenchantly and said there is no humanitarian resolution to the crisis in Somalia. A policy of abandonment of Somalia inevitably means that another crisis will reoccur:

In the absence of a long-term vision, the international community, in the form of the United Nations, is satisfied today, as it was yesterday, with temporary, humanitarian solutions to each fresh crisis, in the time it takes for attention to move away from the Horn of Africa and its starving populations deserted by their own governments. And why should tomorrow be any different?

Just to tip my hand a bit, absent some internal breakthroughs on state-building in Somalia, I’m not certain that technocratic development projects are likely to offer the region that much potential. I’m also not convinced that communities at most risk, particularly pastoralists, have livelihoods that can adapt all that well to the modern age. For my fourth post, I’m going to tackle long-run issues of state capacity and resilience and the future of pastoralism. 


Famine, Climate Change, and the Horn of Africa – part II

Here is part II of my post on the famine in Somalia and East Africa. Since I blogged two days ago, FEWS NET has extended the geographic range at risk of famine (based on nutrition levels and rates of mortality) to more parts of Somalia including the agropastoral areas of Balcad and Cadale districts of Middle Shabelle, the Afgoye corridor IDP settlement, and the Mogadishu IDP community.


In my last post, I discussed what role if any climate change may be playing in the current crisis. I ultimately concluded that the science isn’t settled (for a similar view, see here). I don’t think we can rule out a climate signal but it’s probably premature to say that climate change is one of the drivers of the current drought. In this post, I want to address the causes of the current famine. I got a little bit carried away so I’m going to address what should be done in a third post.

I’m a little distressed when observers diminish the role played by physical exposure and suggest that politics is largely to blame for the famine. Here, Ed Carr in his blog post writes that:

This is not to say that rainfall doesn’t matter – it certainly does. But it is not the most important thing. However, when we focus on rainfall variability exclusively, we end up in discussions and arguments that detract from understanding what went wrong here, and what we might do going forward. Yes, the drought reflects a climate extreme . . . but this extreme is not that stunningly anomalous in this part of the world …
Is he right that the drought is not all that “anomalous”? Well, no actually.

Is this a bad drought?
When people say that this is the worst drought in 60 years, they are talking about rainfall totals and not the impact which has led to famine. What we’re seeing is the impact of two consecutive seasons of low rainfall with the complete failure of the short rains of October to December 2010 and subpar rainfall during the long rains from March to June 2011 (for more info, see this post from Columbia University).

The USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Network (FEWS NET) suggests that rainfall levels themselves are abnormally low for parts of Kenya and Ethiopia (there isn’t enough data for Somalia). Here is an excerpt from the FEWS NET report and I’ve clipped a graphic of rainfall:

This analysis indicates that rainfall was below‐average in all analysis areas (Figure 2) with 2010/11 being the driest or second driest year since 1950/51 in 11 of the 15 analyzed pastoral zones.
Relative Causal Weight 
So, contra Carr, this is a really bad drought, even for the region. I suppose my concern ultimately is about the relative causal weight of different factors in contributing to the disaster. Carr and others come down firmly on the side of politics being more important than physical exposure, but even though he acknowledges a role played by rainfall, it seems like it only plays a small part in his overall calculus of famine risk.

Carr blames politics and the persistent weakness of the Somali state and its long-running absence of a functioning government. I don’t disagree that this aspect is important. Carr and Owen Barder point out that while the drought extends to eastern Ethiopia and Kenya, the famine itself is largely a phenomenon in Somalia. Drawing on Amartya Sen’s logic that democracies do not produce famines, Barder argues:

As Amartya Sen explained in Poverty and Famines people go hungry when they cannot access food, because they are too poor or because markets and governments fail. Drought is neither necessary nor sufficient for famine.

Carr similarly writes that:

The long and short of it is that food insecurity is rarely about absolute supplies of food – mostly it is about access and entitlements to existing food supplies. The HoA [Horn of Africa] situation does actually invoke outright scarcity, but that scarcity can be traced not just to weather – it is also about access to local and regional markets (weak at best) and politics/the state (Somalia lacks a sovereign state, and the patchy, ad hoc governance provided by al Shabaab does little to ensure either access or entitlement to food and livelihoods for the population).

Carr references the FEWS NET map of the famine (the graphic I embedded to kick off the last post) and asserts that: 

Famine stops at the Somali border. I assure you this is not a political manipulation of the data – it is the data we have. Basically, the people without a functional state and collapsing markets are being hit much harder than their counterparts in Ethiopia and Kenya, even though everyone is affected by the same bad rains, and the livelihoods of those in Somalia are not all that different than those across the borders in Ethiopia and Kenya.

I don’t disagree about the importance of politics in making Somalia exceptionally vulnerable to extreme weather events. As USAID’s Rajiv Shah argued, al Shabab, the Islamist militia that controls chunks of Somalia, has made the situation worse by not allowing aid groups into the country:

It’s no coincidence that the areas the U.N. declared as meeting the definition of famine were precisely those parts of south and central Somalia that have been under al Shabab control and where humanitarian access has been limited by Shabab over the past several months to years.

News stories suggest that al Shabab has made it very difficult for aid groups to get in to the country over the past few years, with a number of aid workers having been killed. Somalia is simply a more dangerous and difficult place to get food aid into than other trouble spots with poor governance like Haiti. The New York Times has reported on the obstacles Shabab militants have imposed on those needing relief:

People from those areas who were interviewed in Mogadishu say Shabab fighters are blocking rivers to steal water from impoverished villagers and divert it to commercial farmers who pay them taxes. The Shabab are intercepting displaced people who are trying to reach Mogadishu and forcing them to stay in a Shabab-run camp about 25 miles outside the city.

So, I get that politics has played a major role in making Somalia especially vulnerable. Our own vulnerability mapping work for the DOD-funded Climate Change and African Political Stability project (CCAPS) suggests that southern Somalia was especially prone to having large numbers of people at risk of mass death from exposure to extreme weather events. Our model, unlike FEWS NET maps of emergent vulnerability, captures a snapshot of chronic vulnerability and is composed of four equally weighted baskets, one for physical exposure (25%), one for population density (25%), one for household and community resilience (25%), and one for governance and political violence (25%).



So, we reach a pretty similar conclusion to Carr about Somalia’s particular vulnerability, but we retain a significant role for physical exposure. What’s interesting about Somalia is that even if one underweights governance (see bottom right corner below), its history of physical exposure to climate-related hazards coupled with its population density and low household resilience make the country extremely vulnerable anyway.

What these maps also suggest is that Ethiopia remains pretty vulnerable, despite better governance than Somalia. And this is what we’re observing during the current crisis. Even if famine conditions are currently limited to Somalia, the situation in eastern Ethiopia is still classified as an “emergency,” meaning that households still face short-term instability coupled with “extreme food consumption gaps” or such “extreme loss of livelihood assets” that people are likely to face food consumption gaps.

This is such a bad drought that 4.6 million people Ethiopia are in need of assistance, nearly a million more than in Somalia. Though conditions for many of those 3.7 million in Somalia may be more dire,  conditions are quite bad in parts of Ethiopia. The government may be better positioned in terms of capability and intent to help those in need, but this is a really exceptional drought and should be treated as such. It isn’t clear that there is a “correct” weight that drought conditions play in the current crisis, and I surely don’t mean to absolve al Shabab or the Somali government of their responsibility. That said, I’m uncomfortable treating this mostly as a political problem, ultimately because even with better governance, this region is likely to face chronic water scarcity and resource constraints, particularly for pastoralists (even if the climate signal isn’t clear).

In my third post, I’m going to talk about what should be done.


Famine, Climate Change, and the Horn of Africa – part I

So, I will ultimately come back to climate change and public opinion in this country, but when I haven’t been handwringing over the debt ceiling, I’ve been preoccupied by the humanitarian tragedy unfolding in Somalia and East Africa more broadly. I’m going to tackle this topic in a couple of parts since this post is already quite long. The United Nations estimates that as many as 11 million people are being affected by the current crisis, seen as the worst drought in the region in 60 years (see the FEWS NET map of the extent of the crisis below).

Why is this crisis emerging now, and why are the numbers of people affected as large as they are? Drought and famine of course are nothing new to East Africa and the Horn. We all remember Bob Geldof’s Live Aid concert from 1985 which was organized as a response to Ethiopia’s famine. Of course, the United States sent in more than 20,000 soldiers to Somalia in 1992 in response to the then famine, a mission that went disastrously awry when the Clinton Administration broadened the effort to go after warlord Mohamed Aideed.

Aside from the obvious and important humanitarian issues at stake, the current crisis raises a number of interesting issues about vulnerability to extreme weather events. How much is this famine a function of physical exposure? In other words, is this a really bad drought? Relatedly, does this current drought have anything to do with climate change?

 A number of observers think so. Jeff Sachs makes the case that:

The west has contributed to the region’s crisis through global climate change that victimises the lives and livelihoods of the people of the region.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah made a similar statement:

There’s no question that hotter and drier growing conditions in sub-Saharan Africa have reduced the resiliency of these communities. Absolutely the change in climate has contributed to this problem, without question.

 More credible arguments come from David Orr of the UN World Food Programme:

It is extremely alarming that the incidents of drought seem to be occurring more and more regularly. There was a gap. The general view was that extreme weather events were occurring every 11 years. Then it came down to five or six years. But the last drought in this region occurred in 2007 and 2009. So they do seem to be happening with increasing regularity, undoubtedly as a result of climate change.

Such views were reiterated by Valerie Amos, UN Under-secretary of Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator:

We have to take the impact of climate change more seriously. Everything I’ve heard has said that we used to have drought every ten years, then it became every five years and now it’s every two years.

There is a tendency in the environmental and wider policy community to link almost any extreme weather-related event with climate change, even though other processes like El Niño or La Niña may be more to blame. At the same time, even if climate change is a possible culprit for increasing severity and number of droughts in the region, the science of attribution of particular climate-related events is in its infancy and highly contentious. 

Neither Sachs nor Orr are natural scientists so what is the scientific community saying about the role played by climate change in the region? Some scientists have begun to argue/speculate that climate change may have a role to play in the current drought and going forward.

Chris Funk from the U.S. Geologic Survey (who also advises FEWSNET) has put forward a provocative argument, suggesting that climate change has intensified the effects of La Niña. He has a recent paper in Climate Dynamics that suggests drier conditions in East Africa will continue because of climate change. He attributed the lack of rain to warming over the east Indian Ocean and the extension of the Tropical Warm Pool, which originates in Indonesia:

It really seems as if the warming of the central and southern Indian Ocean is contributing to more frequent droughts and intensification of the impacts of things like la Niña.

It’s warmed about a degree over the last 30 or 40 years and maybe about half a degree over the last 20. But the reason that it’s important is that it’s already really, really warm. And so, as far as we can tell, that warming has triggered more rainfall over the central Indian Ocean. And that rainfall basically pulls in moisture from the surrounding area and prevents it from going onshore into Africa.

The sea surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean are really well correlated with global temperatures. So, the past 150 years, as far as we can tell, the Indian Ocean has gone up and down very closely with global temperatures. I’m not sure that we fully understand why that is, but it seems to be an area that as we’re experiencing global warming the Indian Ocean is warming up right in step with that.

His views are a bit more nuanced as he noted that other areas in East Africa may get greener.

In central and eastern Kenya, it looks like the rainfall is decreasing. But as you go towards Lake Victoria, the rain there has remained steady. And so there’s a lot of opportunity for developing agricultural resources in the west that won’t be affected by climate change. And a similar situation exists in Ethiopia, comparing the north versus the south.

Funk is a geographer by training (does this matter that he’s not a climate scientist? Not sure). What’s more, most of the projections for East Africa suggest that the region is likely to get wetter with climate change not drier. I asked a colleague of mine from UT who does climate projections about this and here is what they said:

You are right that the IPCC AR3 models projected wetter conditions over the GHA – farther south than Somalia in general – with confidence derived from a certain level of agreement among the models. Also, when the Indian Ocean is anomalously warm, for example as often happens during an El Nino event, East Africa is often wet. But attributing a cause for the current drought in East Africa would take some considerable study – including model simulations – that no one has yet done.

Some of that modeling work may have been done by Funk and some of his collaborators. I tracked down another paper in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences from Chris Funk along with colleagues from NASA and the USGS. That project looked at 11 climate models and tried to simulate rainfall changes in the future. 10 of the 11 models suggested that through 2050, rainfall over the Indian Ocean would increase, suggesting less rainfall on land. Funk argued that:

We can be quite certain that the decline in rainfall [over East Africa] has been substantial and will continue to be. This 15 percent decrease every 20-25 years is likely to continue.

However, based on its review of multiple studies, the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment concluded:

There is likely to be an increase in annual mean rainfall in East Africa.

The 2007 IPCC report summary of model projections of projected rainfall shows nearly 20 models projecting higher rainfall over East Africa in most months. Look at the bottom left two frames for annual rainfall totals and December to February projections.

Figure 11.2. Temperature and precipitation changes over Africa from the MMD-A1B simulations. Top row: Annual mean, DJF and JJA temperature change between 1980 to 1999 and 2080 to 2099, averaged over 21 models. Middle row: same as top, but for fractional change in precipitation. Bottom row: number of models out of 21 that project increases in precipitation.

So, what do we make of this disparate evidence? I can’t say I fully grasp the reason why these models are showing such discrepant findings, and I’ll post an update should I get some clarity. In the meantime, I think the jury is out on the science, that it is too soon and too uncertain to make a strong case that there is a clear climate signal behind the on-going drought in East Africa. I’d like to see if the fifth IPCC assessment report revisits or revises the anticipated rainfall dynamics for East Africa. The Working Group I report should be out in September 2013, but we will likely have some reports of drafts well before then.

In my next post, I’ll talk more about how we get from drought to famine, and the relative causal weight of physical factors compared to political and economic factors in the current crisis.


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