photo: Oxfam East Africa/CC BY
Some background on one factor contributing to the severity of the famine in the Horn of Africa, from the Center for International Forestry Research: Deforestation
CIFOR's Frances Seymour say, "Forests and trees frequently form the basis of livelihood diversification, risk-minimization and coping strategies, especially for the most vulnerable households such as those led by women. However, deforestation and land degradation have hindered capacities to cope with disasters and adapt to climate variability and change in the long term."Which is perhaps an NGO-speak way of saying that when you chop down too many trees--something which has happened in Somalia, where the effects of the drought are most acute--you make it more difficult for people, particularly the poor and those dependent on agriculture, to cope when natural disaster strikes.
Let's remember that the Horn of Africa is one of those places where water availability is only going to be further severely restricted due to climate change--one of the roots of UNEP head Achim Steiner warning of a "exponential" increase in climate related disasters.
And also let's remember that population growth plays a part here too, in that the high population growth rates in the region makes the very low per-capita ecological footprint of the average person in the Horn of Africa a nevertheless environmentally destructive force.
All that said, while the director general of the World Agroforestry Centre notes, "There is a mistaken view that because these are dry areas they are destined to provide little in the way of food and are simply destined to endure frequent famines. But drylands can and do support significant crop and livestock production. In fact, the famine we are seeing today is mainly a product of neglect, not nature."
CIFOR cites some successes in dryland crop production:
For example, in Niger, a program launched in 1983 has transformed 5 million hectares of barren land into agroforests. ICRAF experts found that during the drought that hit the country in 2005, farmers who embraced agroforestry were able to sell trees for timber and use the money to buy food. They also were able to supplement their diets with fruits and edible leaves harvested from drought-resistant trees.
More on the Horn of Africa Drought
Somalia Famine Could Claim 750,000 Lives in Next Four Months Without Better Aid
Heat, Drought, Famine All Part Of Coming 'Exponential' Increase Of Climate-Related Disasters