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. …