Lessons learned can help prevent future disasters and save lives
OTTAWA, Jan. 17, 2012 /CNW/ - Thousands of needless deaths occurred and
millions of extra dollars were spent because the international
community failed to take decisive action on early warnings of a hunger
crisis in East Africa, according to a new report by the international
aid agencies Oxfam and Save the Children.
"This report is a timely reminder given that it comes ahead of global
meetings at Davos and the African Union" said Nic Moyer, Executive
Director of the Humanitarian Coalition. "The agencies that make up the
Humanitarian Coalition are already raising the alarm about a looming
food crisis that now threatens millions of people in West Africa.
International donors must learn from past experience. Action must be
taken before hunger turns into famine."
The report, A Dangerous Delay, says a culture of risk aversion caused a six month delay in the
large-scale aid effort because humanitarian agencies and national
governments were too slow to scale up their response to the crisis, and
many government donors wanted proof of a humanitarian catastrophe
before acting to prevent one.
Sophisticated early warning systems first forecast a likely emergency as
early as August 2010 but the full-scale response was not launched until
July 2011 when malnutrition rates in parts of the region had gone far
beyond the emergency threshold and there was high profile media
coverage of the crisis.
Save the Children and Oxfam say more funding for food emergencies should
be sought and released as soon as the crisis signs are clear, rather
than supporting large-scale emergency work only when hunger levels have
reached tipping-point. By that time lives have already been lost and
the cost of the response is much greater. The agencies call on
governments to overhaul their response to food crises, as laid out in
the Charter to End Extreme Hunger (http://hungercharter.org), a document that has already received backing from key international
"Early action saves lives," said Robert Fox, Executive Director of Oxfam
Canada. "It's irresponsible for governments to wait for the public to
push them to act when they know the need and the risks months before
the crisis makes headlines. Droughts happen when the rains fail. Hunger
happens when governments fail - when they don't give enough support to
small farmers and don't move fast enough to support families at risk."
"That a serious food crisis was developing was known months before TV
crews were on the ground in the refugee camps," said Save the
Children's CEO Patricia Erb. "Children don't have to face acute
malnutrition because we know the steps that must be taken to avert this
kind of disaster. First we need to improve early warning systems and
second we need to empower the UN to release funds before crises turn
into humanitarian catastrophes."
Although it is impossible to calculate exactly how many people died as a
result of drought, the UK government estimates that as many as 100,000
lives were lost between April and August 2011, more than half of them
children under the age of five. Today, Somalia remains the most acute
food crisis in the world, with hundreds of thousands of people at risk.
Some early action did take place. But overall, the scale of crisis
outstripped these efforts and late intervention cost more. For example,
trucking five litres of water per day to 80,000 people for five months
in Ethiopia costs more than $3 million, compared to $900,000 to prepare
water sources in the same area before a drought occurs. Such a
proactive approach would mean more lives saved and less money spent. It
is an approach that should be embraced at a time when accountability,
aid effectiveness and proven outcomes are the focus of governments
around the world.
About the HUMANITARIAN COALITION
With a combined presence in more than 120 countries, members of the
HUMANITARIAN COALITION work together to reduce unnecessary competition,
better educate the public on humanitarian needs and reduce
administrative costs. Uniting the forces of CARE Canada, Oxfam Canada,
Oxfam-Québec, Plan Canada and Save the Children Canada, the
HUMANITARIAN COALITION makes donating easy for Canadians.
SOURCE Humanitarian Coalition
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