To prevent further food crises like those that hit millions of people in the Horn and Sahel regions of Africa in the past two years, the misalignment between political and humanitarian risks must be addressed, or aid needs will increasingly go unmet because drought-related hunger is affecting growing numbers of people in Africa, the report said.
"Rapid population growth, low levels of political inclusion, low agricultural yields and rapid environmental change mean the risk of food crises in the Horn and Sahel is increasing," said the report from the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs. "Conflict and geopolitics act as risk multipliers, meaning that full-blown famine remains a serious threat."
Drought-related food crises are the most deadly of all natural hazards and are estimated to have cost between 1 and 2 million lives since 1970.
The report explains why the international aid community is still dragging its feet on early warnings, even though these have improved considerably. For example, alerts were issued for 11 months before famine was finally declared in Somalia in July 2011, and the relief system was mobilised, it said.
One of the main reasons was political, as Western donor nations feared their aid could end up supporting the Islamist militant group al Shabaab, considered a terrorist organisation by Washington, according to the report. "From a donor perspective, the risk of humanitarian aid being captured by al Shabaab took priority over the risk of a humanitarian catastrophe in Somalia," it said.
Another worry for wealthy governments is being accused of wasting taxpayers' money on a crisis that never happened, said Rob Bailey, senior research fellow at Chatham House and the report's lead author.
"That results in a set of funding institutions and decision-making processes in donor agencies, the U.N. and NGOs that seek to minimise those (political) risks at the expense of not really dealing with the risk of famine at all," he told AlertNet.
In practice, this means centralised decision-making, onerous reporting systems, delays in releasing aid cash until it is too late, and a lack of willingness to experiment with new ways of doing things, Bailey added.
But the blame does not only lie with the international community, the report said.
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