Inaction and Delayed Response to Famine Cost Thousands of Lives

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February 1, 2012

Despite early warning signs many months in advance, the international response toward the 2011-2012 famine in the Horn of Africa region has been inadequate to meet the needs of nearly 13 million people at risk, says a January 2012 report from Oxfam and Save the Children. A Dangerous Delay says the scale of death and suffering, and the financial cost, could have been reduced if warnings from 2010 had triggered an earlier, more substantial response. The report calls on governments, donors, the UN and NGOs to adopt different response strategies to future emergencies by managing the risks, not the crisis. This means orchestrating meaningful action partly based on information learned through early warning systems and tackling the root causes of vulnerability through long-term development strategies.  

Recommendations include:

1. Manage the risks, not the crisis
  • All actors need to review their approach to drought risk reduction and not wait for certainty before responding.
  • All actors and early warning specialists need to develop a common approach to triggers for early action, to be used by both humanitarian and development actors.
2. Earlier drought response
National governments should
  • recognize their primary responsibility to meet food security needs, providing political leadership for a drought response;
The international aid community should
  • undertake preventative humanitarian work and assisting communities to prevent, mitigate, prepare and respond to crises;
  • ensure that systems are in place to integrate risk management into work throughout the development and humanitarian cycle – "through investing significantly in people and partner organizations and reviewing organizational structures and systems."
Donors should
  • provide more agile and flexible funding and by ensuring that humanitarian funding can support pre-emptive or early response.