President Obama issued a statement last week thanking Americans who had donated to relief efforts in the Horn of Africa this year. He also cautioned that much more needs to be done to overcome the humanitarian tragedy of 2011.
Obama said, “As we enter the season of giving and renewal, more than 13.3 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia remain in urgent need of humanitarian assistance amid the worst drought the region has seen in 60 years. The heartbreaking accounts of lives lost and of those struggling to survive remind us of our common humanity and the need to reach out to people in need.”
The U.S. has a great tradition of leading the fight against famine wherever it occurs. In 1946, just a year after World War II ended, the threat of massive famine loomed over the globe as food supplies were running low. In this case, the paths of the U.S., Somalia, and Ethiopia crossed briefly.
Herbert Hoover, who was appointed food ambassador during this crisis, first reviewed the food supply of as many nations as possible. In this report were listed Somaliland and Ethiopia. Hoover writes “of self-sufficient nations in Africa, we classified Egypt, Ethiopia, Liberia, and Somaliland, with a total population perhaps of 35,000,000 people.”
There were no reports of drought that year in East Africa. Of course, any country not in food deficit at that time was a huge relief with the impending worldwide famine. It was going to be enough of a challenge to meet the food needs of the war-devastated countries.
Whether or not there is a drought is all about luck. In 1946 there was luckily none in East Africa. This year a different story–a huge drought.
What does not depend on luck though is how well nations are prepared to deal with drought. Many actions can be taken by the international community to help build up the resilience of farmers in developing countries so that when drought does hit, it is not catastrophic. Food reserves can also be in place to prevent a year of setbacks from drought and keep a country moving toward food security.
So, this is one of the lessons of this year. Invest in farmers today to avoid the famine of tomorrow.