(... ci sembra che si dica esattamente quanto, con il vostro aiuto, chiediamo e cerchiamo di realizzare da anni ... è questa la lunga strada che porta alla Giustizia ... )

The silent tsunami
Tuesday May 30, 2006

While hosepipe bans in southern England make headlines, the devastating drought and food crisis in east Africa continues to attract little media interest, says Glenys Kinnock*

Sahara peeped at me from behind her mother. She had just come out of hospital where she had been treated for malnutrition.

All her family's cattle and goats had died in the north Kenyan drought. Sahara's mother told me how they had searched for water and for pastures for their animals but had to give up. She was angry and feeling forgotten and abandoned. "What are you going to do," she said to me, "now that we have no meat to eat or milk for our children?"

Headlines about 13 million people in the south of England "suffering" from a hosepipe ban make little sense when you've just returned from a region where about the same number of people are living on the brink because of a truly devastating drought and food crisis.

A senior UN official recently called the east Africa food crisis "the silent tsunami", a humanitarian catastrophe whose slow burn build-up fails to attract the media interest that went with last year's terrible wave.

Indeed, the sad fact is that in the aftermath of the tsunami some 2.5 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance; in east Africa the estimated number is much higher.

Given the scale of the need the international response to the crisis simply hasn't been enough.

The European Humanitarian Office is actively engaged and is the biggest donor in the region, yet only 20% of a UN appeal to raise $426m (£227m) for urgent humanitarian assistance has been raised. And, as Oxfam warned last week, that lack of funding is putting sustainable solutions to the food crisis at risk.

Resources are being taken from essential long-term projects to fund short-term relief, effectively robbing Peter to pay Paul. Of course immediate emergency food and water needs must be met, but that shouldn't be at the expense of long-term projects to support health, education and infrastructure.

Today in east Africa we are simply dealing with feeding people, which is actually only dealing with the symptoms of the crisis. The reality is that long-term solutions need to be identified because a knee-jerk, ad-hoc response every year is not the way to proceed.

The people most affected by the current food crisis are nomadic herders or pastoralists, who make their living from the livestock, which they rear on the pastures that in better times are able to grow.

I have just returned from areas where over 70% of the cattle owned by pastoralist families have died.

Some will argue that recurrent droughts in the region indicate that the pastoralist way of life is no longer viable, and donors should focus their efforts on persuading pastoralists to move out of their traditional occupation. But just what are the alternative employment opportunities in the arid lands of north Kenya?

Pastoralism is the only way of life that has sustained itself despite many shocks. In 2002 livestock production accounted for 10% of Kenyan GDP, much of it accounted for by the work of pastoralists.

The people I met need better support from government and international donors to make sure that there is a strategy for dealing with unavoidable drought.

Simple measures could make a huge difference.

They need improved road and transport infrastructure to give pastoralists better access to markets, and easier methods of moving animals to where pasture and water are available in times of drought.

They need appropriate social services such as mobile medical clinics which are suitable for their lifestyle.

I understand that concerns about governance and corruption always loom large in people's minds when there are funding requests for projects in Africa. Of course, it is right and proper that African governments are held to account.

Certainly, during my recent visit, I and my fellow African, Caribbean and Pacific and European parliamentary delegates put these concerns to Kenyan ministers and to President Kibaki.

But is it right that African pastoralists living on the very margins of their own societies should be punished for the perceived sins of their political elites?

Furthermore, can this be an excuse for not contributing to east Africa food crisis appeals, when it is very clear that the money is being channelled through closely monitored non-government channels by NGOs, UN agencies and the European Union's humanitarian agency?

The answer to both those questions has to be no.

The parched landscape I saw deserves our attention. Sahara and the millions like her deserve our attention - even if sometimes it is easier to focus on the altogether more manageable issue of making sure the roses wilting in the garden get a good drenching despite the pesky hosepipe ban.


* Glenys Kinnock is MEP for Wales, Labour's European spokesperson for international development and co-president of the African, Caribbean and Pacific States - EU joint parliamentary assembly.