A reflection on more sustainable solutions to the drought crisis
By: Nelly Maonde, Regional Advisor at Start Network, East and Southern Africa
NAIROBI: Acutely sensitive to global warming, the Horn of Africa is one of the most drought-prone regions in the world. Following four consecutive failed rainy seasons, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia are facing the most prolonged drought in recent history. Over the past 40 years, the lowest levels of rainfall have been recorded and threaten food security for an estimated 18.4 million people in the region, and this number is expected to rise in the coming years. In the past 10 years alone, the Horn of Africa has endured three severe droughts in 2010-2011, 2016-2017, and 2020-2022 (OCHA).
Rising international food and fuel prices, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, political unrest, and armed conflicts are some of the macroeconomic factors behind the global food shortage, affecting to the highest degree, at-risk communities in the global south. Middle-income countries primarily relying on agriculture and food production to drive their economies continue to bear the brunt of fast-changing climate patterns and intense weather conditions, forcing the international humanitarian community to now grapple with the inefficiency of traditional aid practices, that are no longer fit for purpose.
A recent report by the World Economic Forum written by Stefan Ellerbeck, states that the Russia-Ukraine war has impacted wheat, fertilizer, and other supplies to the Horn of Africa. At the same time, past droughts have had a devastating effect on farming, with millions of livestock lost and significant drops in food production propelled by failed agricultural seasons. The statement further says the cost of an average food basket has risen by 66% in Ethiopia and by 36% in Somalia, leaving many people unable to provide for even their most basic needs. Food insecurity is not a new looming crisis; yet somehow, leaders in government, civil society, and the humanitarian sector continuously fail to act on and in the prevention of it.
As the world commemorated World Humanitarian Day on 19 August, two facts remained unchanged – the number of people who need humanitarian assistance has never been higher and every hour of every day, humanitarians continue to find solutions that work to assist people and improve lives.
Under the theme #ItTakesAVillage, this year’s World Humanitarian Day endeavored to grow global appreciation of humanitarian work; to shine a light on the hundreds of thousands of volunteers, professionals, and crisis-affected people who deliver urgent humanitarian support. The theme alludes to an entire ecosystem, made up of local volunteers, emergency services, communities at the front lines of crises, NGOs, humanitarian agencies, donors, and various support networks providing urgent health care, shelter, food, protection, water, livelihoods and much more to help millions of vulnerable people each day.
Over the past decade, Start Network has remained committed to challenging and positively disrupting current ways of working in the humanitarian system to ensure assistance is provided more effectively and efficiently, especially in the areas of drought and climate risk, which contribute to the wider food crisis. Our successful track record in innovative drought risk financing, through initiatives such as The Start Fund and Start Ready, provides solutions that the wider humanitarian sector can learn from to offer more meaningful support to the Horn of Africa region and other parts of the world enduring similar, predictable crises.
Just as ‘it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a global village to support a community or region before, during, and after a humanitarian crisis, and this has been our approach to humanitarian action – by advocating for a coherent, collaborative, equitable architecture of international, regional, national and local mechanisms to forge resilience and minimize the devastating impact of climate-related and man-made crises affecting vulnerable communities.
Limited global attention to smaller-scale crises, especially in the face of the Russian war on Ukraine, has shifted the world’s focus from other struggling regions. As countries like Somalia approach another season of potential drought, we are reminded of the tragic neglect of the Somali people and the exacerbation of Ethiopia’s drought by a 20-month civil war in Tigray, which has left the second most populous country in Africa with an increased need for humanitarian assistance as peace talks begin. In Northern Kenya, which is also experiencing the worst drought in 40 years, lives and livelihoods continue to be lost as four million people experience food insecurity with over three million of these even lacking safe water to drink.
This drought in the Horn of Africa is something we cannot afford to deal with again.
Early action saves lives, reduces suffering, and protects livelihoods, resilience, and developmental gains. Humanitarian actors, funders, governments, and communities need to invest in initiatives for early actions in the Horn of Africa and other drought-stricken countries.
It takes a global village to save a life
Start Network continues to work hand-in-hand with local actors in Africa, committing to act in anticipation of drought and advocating for action long before vulnerable communities reach a point where crops may not be able to flourish.
One innovative initiative utilized by the Network is Start Ready, a global financing initiative launched at COP 26 to provide pre-agreed funding at scale for predictable crises like droughts, flooding, and heatwaves. The service marries a combination of ‘risk pooling’ principles to make funds stretch further, data modeling to anticipate disasters before they strike, and local humanitarian action to ensure the most vulnerable can be reached.
Start Ready was activated in Zimbabwe, for instance, in May 2022, disbursing a pre-positioned sum of £471,271 to support Bulilima, Binga, Bikita, Buhera, and Mberengwa districts to mitigate drought, which had reached alarming thresholds warranting the release of funding that month. As drought mitigation activities continue in the country, many livelihoods will be protected from devastating consequences.
“The UK is delighted to be part of Start Ready, which brings the benefits of predictable pre-arranged disaster risk finance to Start Network’s members in some of the poorest and most climate vulnerable communities in the world. We know that acting quickly after disasters save lives and livelihoods, particularly when linked to locally-led contingency plans and delivery systems, as is the case through Start Network members. We are pleased to help build resilience through our support,” added Nick Dyer, Director General, Humanitarian, and Development at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
Start Network also intervenes in drought anticipation through the African Risk Capacity (ARC) Replica Initiative, which applies scientific modeling of drought risks, focused scenario-based contingency planning, ground monitoring, and pre-positioned financing through parametric insurance and contingency funds.
In the second quarter of 2022, Start Network signed an MoU with the Federal Government of Somalia and ARC to roll out early actions for drought in the country. Plans are underway to roll out Disaster Risk Financing (DRF) programming in Kenya as well. In addition to Start Network’s membership presence in the Horn of Africa already, collaborative work with Nexus, a civil society leadership platform in Somalia, is ongoing with the aim of increasing locally led humanitarian action in the country and the region.
Start Network first piloted ARC Replica’s drought financing model in Senegal. When the country experienced drought in 2020, it had already been predicted through risk modeling. The Government of Senegal and Start Network had therefore made early intervention arrangements by purchasing an insurance policy the previous year. Start Network received total payouts worth $10.6 million together with an additional $375,000 in contingency funds, which assisted approximately 335,000 people in a timely manner, enabling farmers and their families to protect livestock and other valuable assets before it was too late.
Despite the significant improvement in resilience-building efforts, the relentless onslaught of droughts in the Horn of Africa over the past decade has left families with little time to recoup and recover from the harsh effects of each crisis. It is, therefore, more urgent than ever before for the metaphoric global village to come together through innovation and collaboration so that long-term solutions to climate-related and man-made crises can be achieved.
We continue to call on more humanitarian partners and funders to shift their approach and embrace initiatives such as anticipatory action, disaster risk financing, and disaster prevention models, by contributing to pooled funds and by implementing forecast-based early action initiatives. This can be achieved through complementary partnerships where international expertise and local understanding can combine to lead the development of global resilience and sustainability.
Start Network Disaster Risk Finance initiatives in Africa are made possible through funding from German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) through the German Development Bank, Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW), The German Federal Foreign Office (GFFO), The UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, IKEA Foundation, Irish Aid, the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.