As the situation in East Africa reaches media headlines across the world, the obvious questions are popping up: How could this be happening again? How could this not have been prevented? Why are we going back to the 1980s, with famine reaching such large scale, affecting 11.6 million people?
But the answer in turn is not easy to accept, as this is one of those “we told you so” moments.
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) - set up following Ethiopia’s 1985 famine as a mechanism to prevent its recurrence - has for the past nine months been forecasting the threat of famine in the region. But donors did not respond. (Never mind that the present number of those affected in East Africa is equivalent to the population of Greece, who themselves have secured a multi-billion pound bail-out from the EU.)
The resulting disappointment and frustration experienced by the agencies working in East Africa is unfortunately common for those working in the field of disaster risk reduction. Where the cost-benefit-analysis justifying support for prevention, which argues that £1 invested in Disaster Risk Reduction can save up to £7 in response funding, has gone to deaf ears. Where the old wife’s tale of a stitch in time saves nine, has been repeatedly ignored. And where donors’ enthusiasm for resilience, the new buzzword for the development sector, has remained as printed text in policy documents.
How many times must we have to go through this before we take preventative action to address the real causes of this recurring problem? How many children must lose their lives before we truly invest now in a better future for them?
And why must donors (bilateral, multilateral, and private individuals) require human suffering to reach such level, in order to take action.
With all the problems facing our world today, surely good news should inspire donors to mobilize the necessary resources for a positive outcome.
At Plan we are committed to secure the best investment for children, by helping them gain ‘skills for life’ so that they have the ability to better protect and look after themselves, to make informed life choices, and to secure resilient livelihoods that meet their future needs.
Such as the story of Nura, who is part of a new generation of female mechanics in Sudan who are learning new skills to pursue unconventional, and more climate-resilient livelihoods to break intergenerational poverty. And the achievement of Wilber, who following extensive training on DRR received through Plan’s programme interventions in El Salvador, was elected to become the youngest President of his community’s DRR Committee, once reaching the age of 18. Once in post Wilber put to action his gained knowledge in DRR by strengthening the local Early Warning System for landslides and floods; securing greater commitment for local environmental management, including greater access to previously scarce potable water through rain-harvesting.
Nura and Wilber’s stories show us that investing in girls and boys’ education, knowledge and skills is an investment in a more resilient future. In responding to the East Africa emergency, let’s come together to provide children at risk real opportunities for a better future.