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Horn of Africa aid caravan too late, again

Barry Malone / Reuters

An aid worker using an iPad films the rotting carcass of a cow in Wajir, near the Kenya-Somalia border, on July 23.

Barry Malone of Reuters reports from El Adow, Kenya:

A besuited U.N. official wearing well-buffed shoes crouches in the orange dust near a cluster of huts in northern Kenyan, and, as his tie wafts in the breeze, raises an iPad and carefully films the rotting carcass of a cow.

Since drought gripped the Horn of Africa, and especially since famine was declared in parts of Somalia, the international aid industry has swept in and out of refugee camps and remote hamlets in branded planes and snaking lines of white 4X4s.


Barry Malone / Reuters

A television crew conducts an interview beside a malnourished child at a hospital at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya on July 23.

This humanitarian, diplomatic and media circus is necessary every time people go hungry in Africa, analysts say, because governments -- both African and foreign -- rarely respond early enough to looming catastrophes.

Combine that with an often simplistic explanation of the causes of famine, and a growing band of aid critics say parts of Africa are doomed to a never-ending cycle of ignored early warnings, media appeals and emergency U.N. feeding -- rather than a transition to lasting self-sufficiency.

"Although humanitarian agencies are gearing themselves up to mount a response, it is far too late to address anything but the worst symptoms," Simon Levine, an analyst at the Overseas Development Institute think-tank, wrote on its website.

"Measures that could have kept animals alive -- and providing milk, and income to buy food -- would have been much cheaper than feeding malnourished children, but the time for those passed with very little investment," Levine said.


Schalk Van Zuydam / AP

Used food tins are stacked at a field hospital of the International Rescue Committee in the town of Dadaab, Kenya, on July 26.

The drought gripping the region straddling Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia is the worst for 60 years, some aid groups say, and is affecting more than 12 million people. In the worst-hit area in Somalia, 3.7 million people are at risk of starvation.

"It seems once again that slow onset disasters don't get attention until they become critical," said a senior humanitarian adviser at a U.N agency in the region

"One can understand this with rapid onset disasters as they come out of the blue, but drought ... we've seen it before and we will again," said the official, who declined to be named. Continue reading.


Feisal Omar / Reuters

A Somali doctor treats a malnourished child, as the child's mother, left, looks on at Banadir hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia, on July 21. The mother's faint smile of hope was extinguished as doctors were unable to save her child.


Reuters photo editor Gilraj Singh wrote a moving article about a series of photos Feisal Omar took of the mother and child pictured above. Read it here.