Building resilience in the Horn of Africa

Abomsa KebedeAbomsa
Kebede, Technical Advisor, Save the Children Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

December 3, 2012

Two-year-old Lokko
Godana drinks cow’s milk every
morning. The milk is rich in proteins
and vitamins, providing Lokko the nutrition she needs to supplement a daily diet
of maize porridge. Lack of access to
animal milk was the primary cause of her malnutrition last year when the
drought slowed cow milk production in the southern pastoral areas of Ethiopia. With supplementary
feeding for the cattle, milk production increased and Lokko’s health improved.  

AidreformScreenCapMalnutrition accounts for 53 percent of infant and child
deaths in Ethiopia and children in pastoralist communities are among the most
nutritionally vulnerable in the country due to recurrent and prolonged periods
of drought. The lack of rainfall
devastates fodder and water sources for cattle and other animals, decreasing milk
production and putting children under five at risk of severe malnutrition.  

For decades, Save the Children Ethiopia has been working with
pastoralist families in Ethiopia to help them plan for, manage, and recover
from drought emergencies. While we cannot stop droughts, there are
successful strategies to lessen their impact.

One significant challenge in responding early to a severe
drought is getting needed resources to communities fast. Speed is critical to preventing malnutrition. In the past, to receive disaster-related
funding, Save the Children and other groups had to make new applications for
funding to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other
donors, which often takes weeks or even months to process. This has been necessary because USAID and
other donors historically have run emergency and development programs on
separate tracks with separate funding sources, application processes, and
program objectives. This has meant that
even when we see a drought coming, we don’t typically have the flexibility to
reprogram resources or receive new resources quickly in order to avert severe
hunger and lack of nourishment, despite having existing relationships and
funding mechanisms in place.

USAID is changing
this way of working. Today USAID will
unveil a new resilience strategy to support chronically risk-prone communities
in between, before and after the repeat cycles of disaster. Furthermore, the agency will begin to broadly
apply instruments, such as the “crisis modifier”, to quicken the pace of
disaster response in the Horn of Africa and in other regions. The crisis modifier is a program
component written into a cooperative agreement targeting drought-prone areas. USAID has integrated this option into
development programs to reduce the processing and approval for emergency
funding, even before a disaster strikes.

USAID already has implemented the crisis modifier successfully
in my country for years. For example, in
a project that I help manage, called “Pastoral Livelihoods Initiative,” or PLI,
funded by USAID, the crisis modifier can make the difference between life and
death for livestock – and malnutrition for kids. When
the drought hits, the crisis modifier allows emergency programs to begin
immediately by adding funds provided by USAID’s “Office of U.S. Foreign
Disaster Assistance” (OFDA), to our existing PLI grant enabling Save the
Children and our project partners to address the crisis early and limit its
effects. The emergency funds help to
prevent livestock loss through activities such as supplementary livestock feeding and
commercial destocking to help families sell livestock ahead of a drought and
then replace them after the drought. In response to the emergency in 2011, USAID programmed
approximately $1.6 million through the crisis modifier to the consortium led by
Save the Children under the second phase of the PLI project. As a result, this project was able to lessen
the impact of the drought for more than 180,000 people. 

USAID is not planning to create a new bureau to implement
their resilience agenda, but instead will bring all bureaus together- OFDA,
Food for Peace, Global Health, Food Security, Climate Change and others — to do
more joint problem solving and planning. Instead of sending multiple teams out to target countries to complete
separate analyses and action plans, USAID has launched “joint planning cells” from
these bureaus to connect staff in the field and in Washington. These joint planning cells set objectives, design
projects, and develop procurements around the same problems of community
vulnerability, looking at both immediate and long term needs. This
joint approach appears to be paying dividends.

While recognizing that the resilience approach, crisis
modifier, and joint planning cells are not yet standard practice across USAID
programs, I believe they show good progress in the right direction. While developed initially for the case of Ethiopia,
USAID is looking for ways to introduce the crisis modifier to other
disaster-prone countries around the world. Just in the Horn of
Africa, USAID is seeking to directly benefit 10 million people and reduce the
numbers of people that need emergency assistance by one million over five years
through resilience-focused programming.

We as Ethiopians feel that our government and local
institutions should increasingly lead, manage, and apply these disaster risk
management techniques in a way that is most appropriate for our communities. Moreover, we need to create early warning
systems for livestock crises and community-based resilience funds that are
coordinated with the Ethiopian government’s emergency response. Already the Ethiopian government has adopted
some PLI best practices in its national emergency livestock guidelines.  

USAID must play a strong leadership role with the Ethiopian
government and other donors to ensure that resilience is not just another fad
but a meaningful and sustainable step forward in changing how all national and global
institutions address recurrent crises. Kids like Lokko are counting on it.