Many natural disasters that involve calamities such as droughts, floods and earth quakes result in internationally supported recovery assistance. This is particularily true when the national efforts are unable to cope with the situation. Recovery activities that focus on food security, such as those currently found in Ethiopia, are mostly oriented and limited towards seed and tool distribution, potentially also topped up with some food assistance (The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies). While such support may be appropriate and can serve to support immidiate needs and short term recovery, it rarely addresses the root causes to the crisis. It is often only a matter of time until the same population face another crisis of similar nature.
It is imperative to understand the root causes to a crisis in order to provide appropriate support. And with the modern age of access to more and better information, emergency response operations have never been better equipped to target the real, identified root causes to a crisis and thus contribute to long-term, resilience building (World Disasters Report 2010). It is also vital for post-disaster responses to strengthen and support the survivors' own organizations.
However, reality looks different. The big donor’s funding is rarely sufficient in neither amount nor flexibility. Humanitarian emergency operations are often limited to immediate needs - they rarely stretch beyond a year - and they are unable to address the many drivers that are behind a particular crisis. As an example, in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, after the 2004 tsunami, with international aid under pressure to spend and to build, many buildings were put up, but when construction was finished and aid agencies withdrew, communities were left with no source of income, no social cohesion and little support for the future.
If adequate time is spent to analyse and understand the root causes to e.g. a lack of food, in particular when it is related to droughts and climate change, improved land, water and nutrient management can be addressed. Water availability is key for a stable production and in turn also a prerequisite to encourage further investments in the production. But that requires farming systems that are water efficient, productive and resilient. To reduce the risk in farming is key to sucess.
Looking into the future, the funding time-frames to humanitarian emergencies must be extended. That will allow for a proper analysis of the root causes of a crisis and to take a broader, long-term problem solving approach to the crisis, as opposed to today’s short-term, sectorial and segmented response (Department of Cooperative Governance, RSA; UNICEF). There is also a need to coordinate inbetween the different donor organisations – there were at lest some 45 different organisations providing emergency assitance to the Horn of Africa crisis last year, many focusing on water-related support (The Nightly News, 26 September 2011). It is highly questionable if this is the most appropriate approach to address a complex, partly drought-driven crisis.
by Dr Patrick Fox