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Brussels, 23 July 2011

The humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa and the European Commission’s humanitarian response

The last two years have been the driest in the Eastern Horn of Africa since 1950. Two consecutive rainy seasons have failed in Somalia, Northern and Eastern Kenya, Southern and Eastern Ethiopia and Djibouti. As a result harvests are very low, livestock mortality has soared, and food and water have become extremely expensive. This dramatically increases food insecurity and decreases the population’s coping capacity.

Millions of people in the region cannot meet basic survival needs, and emergency levels of acute malnutrition are widespread. In most areas affected by the drought, malnutrition rates are over 30%, more than double the internationally recognized emergency threshold.

Humanitarian situation

The combination of conflict and drought has exacerbated the situation in Somalia. According to the United Nations, more than 135,000 people have fled the country since the beginning of the year. Thousands of Somalis are arriving at refugee camps every week in Northern Kenya and Southern Ethiopia in precarious health. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, half of the children under five arriving in the camps are acutely undernourished.

The crisis is expected to worsen over the coming three to four months. Recovery is not expected until next year, given the foreseen late and below-average harvests, the depletion of pasture and water and the high prices of food, water, and fuel. This is why the rapid scaling-up of the emergency response is vital to address the humanitarian needs and to prevent further deterioration.

The European Union’s humanitarian aid response

The European Commission’s humanitarian activities in the Horn of Africa target areas where the local population is extremely vulnerable to extreme weather and where the capacity to recover from emergencies is limited. Since the beginning of this year, the Commission's focus has been on protecting livestock and ensuring that the most vulnerable households continue to have access to food.

In 2011 the European Commission gave nearly €70 million in humanitarian aid to the Horn of Africa, of which more than 70% was committed to respond to the drought crisis. The priority sectors are food assistance, nutrition and water and sanitation

Given the severity of the current drought, the European Commission is in the process of arranging additional funding to respond to the humanitarian needs.

Tackling a recurrent drought problem

Substantial food aid is needed fast to respond to the current emergency. Droughts are a recurring phenomenon, intensified by climate change. A sustainable solution requires increasing levels of resilience and strengthening the links between relief, recovery and development.

Since 2006 the European Commission has been actively involved in disaster risk reduction in the Horn of Africa through its Regional Drought Decision. This initiative focuses on drought- preparedness and aims to make local communities more resilient while building their capacity to cope with the impact of recurrent drought. The immediate objective is to reduce the need for emergency response to future droughts.

However, only long-term action by development agencies and national governments can deliver effective and sustainable results: by investing in local coordination, better resource management, animal health and planning for contingency measures, including stockpiling cereal and grains, buying up animals before they get too weak and repairing water boreholes. Accordingly, adaption to climate change is being integrated into development strategies. In Kenya, for instance, the Kenya Rural Development Programme, worth € 64 million, addresses food security, drought management and support to pastoralists in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands.

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