Is Africa drought a chance to enact new UK policy?

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Mon, 18 Jul 2011 11:05 GMT
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New ways of managing aid are being debated in Britain as global concerns mount over a hunger crisis devastating the drought-affected Horn of Africa.

Randolph Kent, director of the Humanitarian Futures Programme at King's College in London, says the crisis provides a perfect opportunity for the British government to test its recent promise to reform how it responds to humanitarian emergencies.

The severe drought, caused by the driest weather since 1995 in East Africa, has affected an estimated 10 million people and is expected to continue to worsen into early 2012, according to the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

While Kent acknowledges the importance of a $145 million (90.2 million pound) injection of humanitarian aid from the British government, he says the money will not help prevent the next Horn of Africa drought and that the government needs to become more "anticipatory".

"This disaster has to teach us that the ways we've approached such crises in the past is not good enough," Kent said in a statement. "If we don't want to be consistently on a back foot when disasters happen, then we need evidence of strategic planning taking place at an international and regional level now."

The British government's Humanitarian Emergency Response Review (HERR), released in June, recognises that as a result of the increase in the intensity and frequency of disasters - a trend expected to grow with climate change and population growth - preparedness must be a key goal.

Andrew Mitchell, Britain's international development secretary, committed the Department for International Development (DFID) "to build resilience into all its country programmes”.

Mitchell responded to Kent's statement by saying that DFID's resilience work in the Horn of Africa had mitigated the effect of this crisis and, in Ethiopia, the proportion of people affected by acute malnutrition had halved.

"We are continuing to focus more resources on helping developing countries build up their resilience to natural disasters," he told AlertNet. "We are helping countries, including Ethiopia and Kenya, to have early warning systems and preparations in place to avert full-blown disasters."

Soon after Andrew Mitchell's June statement to parliament on HERR, Tom Mitchell, head of programmes at the London-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI), wrote in a critique that the government's response to the report was "puzzling".

Although the response focuses at its outset on "anticipation and resilience", the development secretary ultimately failed to define what resilience means in the context of managing humanitarian crises, Tom Mitchell wrote.

The review reverts to focusing on "commitments to channel more money, more quickly to trusted organisations when disasters strike."