East Africa leaders promise action on drought

AP News
Posted: Sep 09, 2011 12:34 PM
East Africa leaders promise action on drought

East African leaders promised Friday to invest in solutions to recurring droughts which have left 13 million people dependent on food aid, but said little about tackling the corruption that activists partly blame for the widespread hunger.

Experts have long said that governance, not rainfall, is the key issue in preventing widespread hunger.

Economist Jeffrey Sachs said that sending food aid could cost up to ten times the amount of money that could be invested to make a region productive. He spoke during a two-day U.N.-sponsored conference aimed at finding permanent solutions to the disasters caused by recurring droughts in the Horn of Africa.

"If we look at the longer term, the idea simply going from crisis to crisis, from devastation to devastation, is the most costly of all," said Sachs, who is director of the Earth Institute at New York's Columbia University. "Of course it is costly on human tragedy but also in financial terms."

A declaration issued by East African leaders at the end of the summit said countries would invest in better irrigation and help rebuild damaged ecosystems, two key actions vital to help prevent future suffering. The response to the famine has varied widely between governments.

But leaders said little about tackling corruption. Kenya, for example, had a World Bank-funded program designed to help arid areas withstand drought, but it was suspended after $4 million went missing.

A group of donors at the conference criticized Kenya's government-run National Cereals and Produce Board, saying that price manipulation by the board meant hungry Kenyans are paying 70 percent more for maize than world market prices.

Governments must take on greater responsibility and accountability in responding to the disaster, said Oxfam.

"The political responsibility to tackle drought and stop disasters lies with governments, but they have not always turned words into action," said Philippa Crosland-Taylor, Oxfam's Deputy Regional Director for the Horn, East and Central Africa. "Many governments have good policies on paper, but they have not been fully implemented."

The East African leaders' statement also urged the U.N. to consider strengthening the mandate of African Union peacekeepers in Somalia and deploying U.N. peacekeeping troops to the war-ravaged nation.

Somalia has been worst hit by the drought. Its 20-year-old civil war has turned the drought into a famine in some areas, and insurgents are denying access to many aid agencies. The U.N. has repeatedly said it will not deploy peacekeepers to Somalia.

The declaration was signed by the presidents of Somalia, Tanzania, South Sudan, and Kenya, the vice president of Burundi and the prime ministers of Rwanda and Ethiopia and the vice president of Burundi.