Famine and Hope in the Horn of Africa

Once more, famine stalks the Horn of Africa, where more than ten million people are fighting for survival, mainly pastoralist communities in the hyper-arid regions of Somalia, Ethiopia, and northern Kenya. But the current crisis could yet mark the start of regional recovery and development.

NAIROBI – Yet again, famine stalks the Horn of Africa. More than ten million people are fighting for survival, mainly pastoralist communities in the hyper-arid regions of Somalia, Ethiopia, and northern Kenya. Every day brings news of more deaths and massive inflows of starving people into refugee camps in Kenya, across the border from Somalia.

The immediate cause of this disaster is clear: the rains have failed for two years running in the dry regions of East Africa. These are places where water is so scarce year after year that crop production is marginal at best. Millions of households, with tens of millions of nomadic or semi-nomadic people, tend camels, sheep, goats, and other livestock, which they move large distances to reach rain-fed pasturelands. When the rains fail, the grasses shrivel, the livestock die, and communities face starvation.

Pastoralism has long been a harrowing existence in the Horn of Africa. The location of life-supporting pasturelands is determined by the unstable and largely unpredictable rains, rather than by political boundaries. Yet we live in an era when political boundaries, not the lives of nomadic pastoralists, are sacrosanct. These boundaries, together with growing populations of sedentary farmers, have hemmed in pastoralist communities.

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