Horn of Africa: Questions and Answers

What is the current situation in the Horn of Africa?
The drought situation remains severe and it is increasing vulnerability across the Horn of Africa in different ways. In many areas of Somalia, the severity is at an exceptional scale, famine was declared in six districts in the South, and emergency measures are still urgently required to save lives. This severity is caused by conflict, insecurity, poverty, state failure and then made worse by drought. In other parts of the Horn, the drought exacerbates poverty, depletes productive assets and creates food insecurity through loss of livestock and income.

While some of the immediate stress can be relieved through emergency food and water interventions, there is a responsibility to understand and address the causes of the persistent vulnerability, by building long-term resilience.

How is the IFRC approaching the crisis?

Although we are in a heightened crisis now and increased assistance is called for, the IFRC recognises the importance of simultaneously addressing long-term and chronic issues in the region. Drought-affected areas will only expand in the coming decades, and the droughts themselves will last longer due to the impact of climate change. The question is not just how to deal with this crisis, but how best to support the adaptation capacities of communities that live in arid lands in the years to come.  
The IFRC recommends a scaled-up approach with at least three interventions: firstly, to complement government efforts to reduce the health impacts of poor diet and drought, secondly, to increase access to water, and thirdly, to support more drought-resistant livelihood diversification. The fact that these crises have been persistent for years means we need to try different approaches; to think beyond what we can give, and more about what empowers the communities where we are working.

The IFRC is urging partners to also support long-term interventions, and work with us at a pace that will allow quality programmes to be supported in order to mitigate future crises. Please visit the various appeals on www.ifrc.org for more information.

How is the IFRC responding at a regional and country level?
The IFRC is supporting national societies across the Horn of Africa to meet urgent humanitarian needs resulting from the drought, and address long-term vulnerabilities for the recurrent  cycle of drought. In order to promote country-led ownership of responses and continuity between emergency and locally owned, long-term interventions, the IFRC will not be launching a regional appeal, instead a regional framework was developed to provide support to NSs. Although the IFRC will not launch a regional appeal, it will coordinate and support efforts through a regional framework.

This framework outlines the common objectives and standards in the drought response, encourages a culture of learning and evaluation, and provides a technical support role to help national societies promote quality assurance in their responses across the region.  Hence, IFRC urges partners to support the emergency and on-going appeals in the affected countries as well as the regional framework.

• Kenya

On behalf of the Kenya Red Cross, the IFRC launched a revised emergency appeal on 22 July for 14.6 million Swiss francs. The appeal focuses on long-term community support, particularly for the most drought-affected communities in Turkana and the North East. The revised appeal covers immediate nutrition and water needs and seeks to promote sustainable livelihood diversification to facilitate long-term food security. Currently, the Kenya Red Cross is assisting drought-affected communities through a range of interventions:  improving access to water, livestock support, food for school children and health outreach services.

The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement is now also looking at a number of other interventions where it has identified gaps in the humanitarian response. This includes: scaling up support to specific communities by providing a range of services including: health, food, water and livelihood support; cholera and other diseases preparedness in including border areas; and finally investigating the potential of playing a role in a new refugee camp. Currently, IFRC and KRCS are reviewing the appeal to include scaling up interventions.

• Somalia

The IFRC recognises that the most urgent humanitarian needs are currently in south-central Somalia, and urges partners to support the ICRC and Somali Red Crescent Society (SRCS) in their vital work. Together they are scaling up their response through food distribution and primary health care services. Given the severity of the situation, the IFRC will help bolster the capacity of the SRCS with volunteer training in disaster preparedness and first aid to ensure there are the human resources on the ground to respond to the crisis. The IFRC is exploring other opportunities to provide support in this critical time. The IFRC also continues to support SRCS in Somaliland and Puntland; which also face drought conditions, with essential health and water interventions. 

• Ethiopia

The IFRC conducted a needs assessment that resulted in the launch of a preliminary emergency appeal for 10.9 million Swiss francs. This will help the Ethiopian Red Cross increase its efforts in the areas of food and health, the appeal is currently under revision for a potential scaling up. In addition, work will focus on providing water through water points and boreholes as well as emergency water trucking where absolutely necessary to save lives.

Further responses will include a relief distribution to refugees and internally displaced people in the Hodet region and also providing health and water assistance to refugees in Gode. As the Ethiopian Government opens a new refugee camp in the Dolo Ado region, the Ethiopian Red Cross is looking at the potential support it can provide in the fields of water and health. There are growing concerns due to the number of deaths among refugees due to outbreak of polio and measles in the camps.

• Djibouti

Following an assessment, the IFRC plans to launch an emergency appeal to fund the distribution of relief items and cash to the most affected families in both rural areas and urban informal settlements. It will also provide emergency healthcare for up to 30,000 people through a community based health response unit. It will also aim to reduce the risk of waterborne and water related diseases by promoting safe water practices to people living in informal urban settlements.

• Tanzania

Following a Government forecast that many regions could become food insecure by the end of the year, a Red Cross assessment team, led by the French Red Cross has been deployed to assess the situation. A report and possible appeal for financial assistance may follow in the coming weeks.

• Eritrea

At present there are no fixed plans for an assessment in Eritrea, however the IFRC Regional Representation is monitoring conditions and will respond immediately to requests for assistance from the Red Cross Society of Eritrea.

Is the Red Cross now going to work in refugee camps?

The work of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement responds to humanitarian need and vulnerability wherever that may be. Up until now we have not operated in the refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia as the needs of refugees is being managed by other humanitarian organisations under the leadership of UNHCR. However, as the population of these camps continues to rise, particularly in Dadaab, the Kenya Red Cross has made the Government of Kenya and UNHCR aware that it would be willing to start operations, should the needs require its support.

What work are you doing along the border between Somalia and Kenya?

The work of the Kenya Red Cross has focused on helping host communities survive the drought, through interventions in food, water and healthcare. However, a need has been identified to support Somali refugees crossing into Kenya, many of whom are too sick or weak to make the final few miles to the camps. The Kenya Red Cross could provide immediate first aid assistance where needed and then to transport vulnerable refugees, including unaccompanied children, to the camps.

How does the drought affect communities?

Drought increases and perpetuates vulnerability across the Horn of Africa in different ways. It exacerbates situations of chronic poverty, conflict or food insecurity, and often results in forced migration. It also contributes to an overall deterioration in the environmental conditions of arid lands. Without rain to refill indigenous and natural water points, traditional sources of water dry up and surrounding pastures become parched. This forces people to travel further for water, and increases the vulnerability of livestock to disease and deformity, thereby decreasing their value. In many instances the livestock die, families or communities lose their only viable source of income and food and succumb to destitution.

What are the best ways to help?

The humanitarian community is playing a critical role in working with governments to reduce the impact of drought on vulnerable populations. Visit the website www.ifrc.org for updated appeals for each country affected by the drought.
Your contributions will help us provide the following:
• Emergency assistance including water and food to the most affected communities
• Access to healthcare – particularly for mothers and children
• Food for children at school
• Maintaining local water supplies with irrigation and borehole initiatives
• Support to pastoralists in their transition to more viable livelihoods such as irrigated agriculture
• Assistance for rural migrants
• Year-round operations that build community resilience and mitigate the impact of future droughts

Why has the UN declared a famine in Somalia?

The UN has declared famine conditions in certain regions of southern Somalia. This declaration does not have any implications for the conditions in Somaliland, Puntland, or drought affected areas of Ethiopia or Kenya. Their claim that there is a famine in southern Somalia as conditions have exceeded a threshold of a defined  set of criteria established by the Integrated Phase Classification of Food Security (IPC) – a famine early-warning system led by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.  

Does the IFRC claim there is currently a famine in Somalia?

There are many different definitions of famine. Using the term famine is often highly politicized and contentious.  Defining characteristics across all definitions include “extreme levels of excess mortality” resulting from the absence of, or lack of access to, food. As the IFRC is not working directly in south-central Somalia we cannot verify these indicators. The IFRC therefore avoids using the term ‘famine’. The focus should not be on terminology, but the fact that the situation has clearly deteriorated for several consequent years and current conditions are at an extreme. The situation in Somalia requires urgent attention which is expected to get worse in the coming weeks without aid. The ICRC and Somali Red Crescent Society are working closely together to address the needs in these areas.

Please contact the ICRC for further information (Yves Van Loo +254 736 084 015).
How long will the current drought last?

The current drought began in November 2010 and is expected to last until November 2011. Indicators show that the ‘short rains’ in November will be about  normal in most areas except the Mandera Triangle and parts of South Central Somalia which currently hit by the drought. However even with normal rainfalls, it can be expected that families will struggle far into 2012 before we see a significant recovery due to serious depletion of resources and destitution. The economic impact also increases the burden on families, such as inflated prices for staple foods (grain) and deflated prices in livestock markets. In addition, with the early onset of short rains in the region, floods are expected which may cause crop damage and hinder crop planting. Therefore, the current humanitarian crisis is most likely to persist till September 2012 the time of the next main harvest season.

Why does it keep happening?

Drought in the Horn of Africa is not a new phenomenon. Historical rainfall records demonstrate that there is a consistent fluctuation in rainfall and rain patterns. Current levels of precipitation are relatively comparable to those in the past but it has been observed that drought cycle is becoming shorter and the number of annual rainy days are fewer. However, the difference also lies in the ability of communities in arid lands to cope with drought and adapt to the impact of climate change; their traditional lifestyles have evolved, populations have increased creating more competition for limited resources, grazing land and water points along traditional migration routes are fenced off by farms and national parks, neighbouring tribes are armed with modern weapons – all these factors create an even greater strain upon communities to manage long periods of drought.

What are we learning from each drought?

The IFRC and its member national societies are continually evolving their response to drought based on experience and the feedback of communities. While the response is formed around the unique needs of each drought, the IFRC and national societies consistently aim to provide sustainable solutions that adapt to trends and changes within rural communities. They monitor communities through the changes they experience year-round, and aim to provide the basic assistance that is required to build a community’s resilience, and mitigate the effect of a crisis.

For further information, please contact:

In Kenya:
 Nancy Okwengu, communications officer, IFRC. Mobile: +254 733 632 946
E-mail: nancy.okwengu@ifrc.org                                                                                  

In South Africa:
 Faye Callaghan, communications manager Africa, IFRC. Mobile +27 71 895 2774
E-mail : faye.callaghan@ifrc.org