INTERVIEW-Red Cross warns of Horn of Africa famine risk

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 4 December 2008 18:24 GMT

POZNAN, Poland, Dec 4 (AlertNet) - The hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa is getting worse and could tip into famine if the next harvest fails, the head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said on Thursday.

U.N. food aid is not reaching enough places affected by drought, and the Red Cross has decided to boost its response in the region urgently, IFRC secretary-general Bekele Geleta told AlertNet in an interview at U.N. climate change talks in Poland.

"The situation is deteriorating ... If the next harvest goes bad, it can very easily lead to famine," said Geleta, himself from Ethiopia.

Food production across the Horn of Africa has suffered because of poor rains while global food prices have risen. In Somalia, fighting between the government and Islamists has left millions hungry. Conflict also affects parts of Ethiopia.

In September, the United Nations estimated that nearly 17 million people were in urgent need of food and other aid across the Horn of Africa, with donors having contributed only half the $1.4 billion needed to feed them for the rest of the year.

The Red Cross has just completed an assessment of the food shortages in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti and Eritrea.

"We learned that the food situation is getting worse and worse, and that the reach of the (U.N.) World Food Programme is not really good enough -- probably because they have not had sufficient response to their appeal," Geleta said.

It said it had identified 600,000 people in remote areas of Ethiopia without access to food. It said it also planned to provide food and water to a further 400,000 people in Djibouti, Somalia and Kenya.

The Red Cross is expected to appeal next week for some 90 million Swiss francs ($75 million) to provide relief for 1 million people.

CLIMATE CHANGE

The Red Cross has joined forces with other U.N. agencies at the Dec. 1-12 climate change talks in Poland to urge governments to do more to reduce the risk of climate-related disasters like that affecting the Horn of Africa.

"We cannot separate climate change from disasters - actually they go very much together," said Geleta. "It is because of climate change that disasters are increasing in intensity and in the numbers they reach."

Geleta said global warming was a factor in the worsening droughts and floods the Horn of Africa has experienced in the past three decades, and more must be done to protect people.

"There is an absolute need for disaster risk reduction in Ethiopia - on the ecosystem side, on the water catchment side, on changing how people live , how people farm," he said.

Geleta said Ethiopians were helping themselves by replacing destroyed forests, planting vegetable gardens, and harvesting rain water. The government also runs a safety net programme that provides cash and food to around 7.5 million people in return for work on community projects.

But Geleta said there was a need for more financial resources and co-operation between aid agencies to build up

Ethiopia's ability to cope with climate change.

"Unless something in disaster risk reduction is started - and actually done and supported in a big way, we will face a really very serious situation - not just in the Horn, but in almost all of Africa," he said.

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