Battered by global warming and civil wars, wide swaths of the African continent again face an unprecedented crisis: In Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, and across the Red Sea in Yemen, 20 million people face starvation, “barely surviving in the space between malnutrition and death,” in the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
Yet the threat many of these people face today may be less grave than it would have been for their parents and grandparents. Over the past two decades, African nations have learned valuable lessons about how to predict, if not prevent, droughts, and how to ward off famine by strengthening the defenses of the most vulnerable.
From Madagascar to Ethiopia to Somalia and beyond, governments, international aid agencies, and the villagers they help are building up “community resilience.” That’s the new buzzword in humanitarian circles: It is seen as key to ensuring that farmers and herders have something to hold onto when drought strikes, rather than cycling endlessly in and out of disaster.
Resilience is a big concept that works in little ways. It could be UNICEF installing community faucets around villages in Madagascar to provide clean water pumped from a nearby well, ensuring that already malnourished children do not get sicker by drinking polluted water. It could be a public works venture in Ethiopia that pays villagers cash or gives them food to build roads or dig wells. Or it could be an experimental farm in Somaliland encouraging goatherds to diversify into growing food crops.
These initiatives won’t prevent drought, nor will they eliminate famine overnight. But by helping people withstand sudden shocks and contributing to longer-term development goals, they are saving lives.
[Christian Science Monitor]