We Must Act Now to Prevent Disaster in the Horn of Africa Drought and Famine Again Besiege an Oft-Troubled Region

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WE have time to avert yet another humanitarian crisis in the greater Horn of Africa, consisting of Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Djibouti, Uganda, Tanzania, and Burundi. While it is hard to focus on anything but the tragedy in Rwanda, it is also a part of the greater Horn and can be shielded from the wave of drought and famine all our sources tell us is coming.

Last week I had the opportunity to travel throughout the Horn of Africa, including Rwanda, and then to sites in Europe to participate in an unprecedented series of meetings about the threatened Horn. This was a presidential mission consisting of United States Agency for International Development chief Brian Atwood, several presidents of the world's best-known humanitarian organizations, and selected members of the US press corps. Our mission was to convince African leaders, European nations, and international organizations to join the US in heading off the next African famine before it starts. While no one will ever win a Nobel prize for averting disaster, millions of dollars and lives can be saved if the world takes a leap of faith and outthinks the food crisis that threatens to appear shortly in the Horn.

Is there anything different about this crisis compared with the great disasters and famines of 1964, '74, and '84? Not really, and that is exactly why we need to approach this one systematically. If we wait, our only recourse will be to trot out the tired appeals and pictures of starving children that have contributed to what I call "famine fatigue" among donors.

America has a special interest in this proactive approach. In as many as 20 complex humanitarian emergencies in the world today, mostly in Africa, I have found the US footing well over half the bill for assistance and rehabilitation.

While I am proud that the US takes a leadership role, it is time to impress upon our donor partners that they need to contribute more to disaster efforts.

Armed with information gathered from sources as diverse as satellites and migration patterns of herdsmen unchanged over the centuries, we set off to meet with the presidents of Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Kenya; the World Food Program; the International Red Cross; the Food and Agricultural Organization; the United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs; the UN High Commission for Refugees; and the humanitarian arm of the European Union.

We traveled to sites of encroaching desertification, flew over cultivated but unproductive fields, inspected aspects of the international food assistance pipeline, and talked with refugees already routed by either drought or war. …