Famine in East Africa

03.08.2011

The most devastating drought for decades has taken hold in the Horn of Africa. In some regions in the south of Somalia there is no longer anything to eat at all; millions of people are fleeing from the threat of starvation. In an interview, Christoph Kaut, Managing Director of the Aid by Trade Foundation, tells us about the situation in East Africa.

​Mr Kaut, you have often travelled around the continent. Currently the people in the East African countries are going through the worst drought in 60 years. Is this a natural disaster — or what else could have caused it?

Christoph Kaut: Periods of drought occur again and again in these regions. It is no surprise, however, that the rural population of Somalia is particularly badly affected. The civil war that has been going on for two decades now is responsible for both the poor infrastructure conditions and that the absence of virtually any precautionary measures. For this reason there are hardly any food reserves. 

Additionally, strong growth in the population in East Africa in the last few years has led to a rise in livestock across all the countries there. In turn this has led to large areas being overgrazed. The fertility of the soil has decreased due to overuse and erosion — and on top of this, climate change is also making its contribution. The timing and intensity of rainfall is changing and in some cases the rain has failed completely. Farmers have been unable to prepare themselves sufficiently well to cope.

With the „Cotton made in Africa” initiative, the Aid by Trade Foundation helps cotton farmers in Africa to help themselves. The foundation establishes an alliance of international textile companies who buy and process sustainably produced cotton from African smallholder farmers specifically for the world market. The cultivated areas are in western and southern Africa. Has the drought also had consequences for your partners on location? 

Kaut: Our cultivated areas have also been affected by climate change and increasing population pressure. The harvest yields for the small farmers in Benin und Burkina Faso, for example, have fallen by as much as 33 per cent as a result of delayed rainfall.

Together with German development organisations we carry out local training measures locally to help people cope with climate change and decreasing soil fertility. That way the farmers learn, for example, how to build compost pits, construct walls to protect against erosion and how they can sow their seeds with minimal previous treatment of the soil. This is intended to raise the water retention properties of the soil so that it is better able to absorb the more frequent bursts of heavy rainfall. It also enables soils to retain more CO2, which then decreases the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

In your view, what aid provision is required most urgently at the moment in the countries affected − Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti?

Kaut: Right now, direct assistance is the order of the day − most importantly food, drinking water and medical care. 

What needs to be done to improve the situation in the long term? Kaut: To ensure that this kind of catastrophe not to repeat, we need to actively address the problems caused by man as rapidly as possible. The infrastructure, for example, needs to be further developed, agricultural training programmes need to be carried out and school education needs to be improved.

What’s fundamentally important — but definitely the most difficult to implement — is a peaceful solution to the conflict in Somalia, along with the development of a stable government in the region. Only then will the conditions be present for sustainable, long-term development.

Many Otto Group employees are asking themselves what they can do. How would you advise them?

Kaut: All the well-known aid organisations, such as German Agro Action oder Médecins Sans Frontières, are on location and definitely deserve our support. We should take care, however, not to limit the scope of our donations to urgent emergency aid. These organisations should also have the option to invest the money in long-term redevelopment measures.

The interview was held on behalf of the Otto Group by Katja Strube, free journalist.

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Links: *www.welthungerhilfe.de/horn-of-africa-drought-aid.html *www.msf.org.uk/Marere_Somalia_20110715.news