Crisis prevention & the meaning of independence

Children fetch water in Wajir, Kenya where pastoralist families have been hit by the drought. Photo by: Colin Crowley / Save the Children / CC BY-NC-ND

A vulture eyeing a starving toddler – a nightmarish scene. The late Kevin Carter won a Pulitzer Prize for that chilling photo taken 1993 in South Sudan. It shocked the international community and prompted massive relief for a region reeling from civil war and famine.

That region became an independent state Saturday in a long process carefully aided by the United Nations and others.

As citizens of the newly formed Republic of South Sudan put persistent worries aside and celebrate independence from Khartoum, a colossal food crisis is threatening to destabilize the Horn of East Africa.

Some 11.5 million people in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia are at risk of starvation. It’s the most severe food security emergency in the world today, the worst drought in 60 years. And the current humanitarian response is inadequate.

That’s according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, which predicted the drought last year. FEWSNET is run by the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has made food security and crisis response & prevention pillars of its new strategy.

Can development aid help diffuse or even prevent crises before they occur (and threaten the safety and economic security of others around the globe)? Most likely. The key to making it work: a functioning early warning system, political leadership, money and sufficient funding flexibility. And an international community working in partnership to tackle emerging issues.

But of course, things aren’t always clear-cut, especially when development, diplomacy and defense objectives collide. Should the international community freeze assistance to the Palestinian territories, for instance, as long as their leaders seek statehood with the United Nations? Should international donors continue to fund HIV prevention in China and other emerging economies? What exactly should be the role of private and public donors like the European Union?

Amid these current debates, the suffering continues in the Horn of Africa. As Save the Children CEO Justin Forsyth wrote last week in the Huffington Post: “Two tragedies are unfolding in the horn of Africa. The first is the very visible one, the tragedy of families who’ve walked for weeks, their children growing weak with hunger, desperate for our help. Then there is the larger tragedy of a failing humanitarian system built around responding to emergencies, not preventing them.”

It appears as if sweeping reforms of our relief and development architecture are needed to truly tackle emerging crises before they get out of hand.

Read more about the ongoing crisis in the Horn of Africa.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Rolf Rosenkranz

    Rolf Rosenkranz oversees a talented team of in-house journalists, correspondents and guest contributors located around the globe. Since joining Devex in early 2008, Rolf has been instrumental in growing its fledgling news operation into the leading online source for global development news and analysis. Previously, Rolf was managing editor at Inside Health Policy, a subscription-based news service in Washington. He has reported from Africa for the Johannesburg-based Star and its publisher, Independent News & Media, as well as the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, a German daily.