Causes of and responses to the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa
The area straddling Somalia, Ethiopia and northern Kenya, has been dubbed the "triangle of death" as the worst drought in more than fifty years grips the area. An estimated thirty percent of children are malnourished, many arriving in refugee camps so "emaciated and with skin lesions so deep that you could see their bones showing in their skulls and arms." According to testimony by State Department official Reuben Brigety, acute malnutrition has reached 50% and 40%, respectively, in Ethiopia and Kenya--far above the 15% threshold for an international humanitarian emergency.
The causes of this emergency are complex, and the international effort to address the situation is well-intentioned, but the crisis demands a broader and dramatic reaction, which sadly, remains improbable.
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Somalis have not been governed by a central government since 1991, which has aggravated a number of the famine's contributing factors beyond the oft-cited violent conflict and drought. Over the last year, fuel and food price increases have surpassed 300 percent in the Somali capital. Regional deforestation has devastated traditional ecosystems, eliminating trees, grazing land, and water and rendering the tri-nation area "more or less dry." Much of the productive farmland has been leased to China, Saudi Arabia, and India, so desperately needed food has been exported to foreign markets. Finally, local farmers lack machinery and fertilizer, leading to low agricultural outputs and the absence of food reserves to sustain people during droughts or other shocks.