December 23, 2006

African Transitions

The effect of climate change is readily evident in eastern Africa where drought has gripped the land leading to millions of people needing food aid. Yet, food aid is not enough for these times. As Menghestab Haile of the World Food Program (WFP) writes, it is time to seriously start thinking beyond this drought and the immediate problem of food aid to creating more sustainable solutions for the future. He notes that often donors contribute food where a monetary donation would work better to build a fuller answer.

The growing damage wrought by climate change in sub-Saharan Africa demands more than seasonal good will; it needs true political will, matched by real action, if we are to halt the ever growing problem of world hunger.

Ask Mohamed Abey, a pastoralist leader in the dusty roadside community of Skanska in north-eastern Kenya. The 47-year-old says he owned 400 livestock before the 2005 drought; now he has just 20.

He admits pastoralism is no longer sustainable. While he is grateful for the monthly package of food aid, he urges the world to do more so the 2,000 people in Skanska can get back on their own feet.

Told that a lack of support for restocking or safety net schemes means that food is about all they can currently expect, he predicts: "If there isn't enough rain and we cannot return to pastoralism, we will come up with other options."

For Abey, it means getting his children in school and being able to buy seeds and supplies to begin farming.

Another solution that the WFP and the UN is advocating to create humanitarian drought insurance that can be used to manage the problems of drought more effectively.

The pilot project in Ethiopia shows how such schemes could work in practice.

Using money provided by the US government, the Ethiopian administration and other donors, the World Food Programme (WFP) brokered a deal with the Axa Re insurance company to obtain cover for 62,000 rural families against drought.

The insurers agreed that below a certain minimum of rainfall, they would pay $7m within a matter of days, to be spent on food aid or payments to farmers. The premium paid was $930,000.

As it happened, rainfall stayed above the threshold, and Axa Re kept its money. But WFP's Peter Smerdon believes the project shows how poor communities can gain relief quickly.

"The big advantage is it's much faster," he told BBC News.

"Normally, you see a disaster coming, you wait for it to get there, you go and assess the damage, you go and see what you need, you appeal to donors, you have to get the food and assistance in there; and that can take months."

By that time, he observed, farmers might have lost their livestock, sold their farming equipment, and eaten their seeds.

Subsequently, they must rely on international assistance to restore living standards, which is much more expensive in the long run as well as much more damaging to people's lives.

As we begin to face the consequences of global climate change, we will need many creative solutions such as humanitarian insurance policies to weather the coming years. The more proactive we are with dealing with the coming problems, the more control we will have in making good solutions that will work for the majority of humanity rather than have the crisis spiral out of control and we devolve to a winner-takes-all, dog-eat-dog world. We are all in this boat together.

Posted by Mary at December 23, 2006 11:22 AM | Environment | Technorati links |