United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction
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- East Africa is one of the regions in the world most affected by droughts. Recent trends seem to show an increase in risk, while longer term projections do not provide clear trends for the whole region and for individual countries.
- Most countries are low income, with some lower middle income countries. Some have diverse agro-ecological conditions, but most of the area in the region as a whole and in all individual countries being assessed is arid or semi-arid lands (ASALs), which has repercussions for national drought vulnerability.
- Food security (reduction in food quantity and quality, and even famine) is the biggest threat presented by droughts in East Africa, provoked by losses in agricultural and livestock production and in income, and compounded by already low income and lack of income diversification, problems surrounding water quantity and quality, and weak local and national food markets. Drought events combined with low local coping capacities and state failure, civil war and political interference have provoked some of the worst nature-based humanitarian disasters of the 21st century.
- These factors also affect the medium and long term impacts, such as loss of assets, human (child) development, conflict, migration, self-help will and thus recovery and development. Other important impacts are more localised: hydro-electric generation, and impacts on sensitive aquatic and terrestrial eco-systems (sometimes with repercussions on tourism or development e.g. eco-system services like water retention and biodiversity)
- Early warning systems have been adopted in the whole region, but require more bottom-up linkages with local communities, and need to be connected with constant monitoring of ever-changing vulnerabilities (i.e. not a once-of static vulnerability assessment only). Key to their effectiveness is mutual trust of stakeholders and stringent use (i.e. no politically-motivated manipulation or arbitrary regard of the results) including cooperation with international early warning systems.
- Drought resilience management exists at various layers but yet often proves insufficient to protect lives (with a visible decreasing trend) and livelihoods (increasingly a core problem). Many instruments or approaches must contribute to drought resilience, at the sectoral level, at the level of overarching policies, communication, coordination, monitoring and evaluation, as well as regional cooperation. Some key lessons are:
- Pastoralism is one adaptation to the harsh and varying conditions, but is weakened by a range of factors including less open transhumance routes, reduced reserve areas, higher population densities of people and animals, and overall vegetation degradation caused by drought. Nevertheless, (improved) pastoralism must be part of the solution mix in the region.
- Local populations and communities are familiar with resilience strategies including agricultural practices (like natural resource management), income diversification and infrastructure development (small dams, wells, roads, markets, slaughterhouses), which are partially and slowly implemented. In many of these areas, they need additional support, such as in agriculture (breeding, irrigation, agroforestry, water saving cropping, on-farm water harvesting), landscape management (planning tools, water management and larger-scale water harvesting, community forestry), local private and public infrastructure investments.
- Water management in the region needs integrated water management, from watershed to surface and groundwater use, water harvesting, dam construction, irrigation, animal and human use, electricity generation, etc. The large dams in particular have international perspectives and constitute risks for international conflict, needing very careful planning, policy dialogue and conflict resolution. But also smaller structures need to be embedded into conflict sensitive user planning.
- Local informal solidarity networks play a big role in cushioning the impacts of drought and other risks. However, poverty and lack of non-financial capacities limit local efforts. During intense droughts, social protection (cash or food aid) is thus and still elementary and often the combined result of national and international interventions. Emergency aid and longer-term social protection are additional entry points for ‘building (back) better’, partially blurring the borders between development and disaster relief.
- Local and regional conflicts over water, grazing lands and local land use are frequent and strongly exacerbated during droughts. Conflict-sensitivity in all activities and during all periods of drought-resilience building is indispensable.
- Food markets are weak and weakly integrated so that during droughts, food prices rise (while meat markets plummet). Market integration must be improved, which includes not to overly rely on subsistence production in normal times. Also, local food reserves should be promoted, public and private.
- Linked to that, general economic development and diversification away from drought-dependent income sources is a (albeit long-term) pathway to more resilience and food market integration.
- Financial instruments add to resilience in several forms: beneath the standard insurance instruments, also savings are important buffers, and access to credit before, during and after droughts, with conditions designed according to temporal needs and without harming financial sustainability of the institutions.
- Energy systems should be diversified, so that drought does not overly hurt economic activities, and water in reservoirs can be used for irrigation. Bioenergy through careful management of (encroaching) shrubs and trees in rangelands could be one option.
- There is an important need to better synchronise and harmonise sectoral drought preparedness and emergency interventions.
- Overarching these sectoral instruments for more drought resilience, there is a need for clear division and attribution of responsibilities and accountability, coordination, harmonisation, communication, monitoring and evaluation. These efforts need separate (sector independent) support (capacity building and development, funding, political will and highest level), and personal and organisational continuity. Both seems to be lacking at times, but more research would be needed to follow this up at national and sub-national levels.
- Regional organisations (like the IGAD) and international Early Warning Systems (EWS) (FEWS-Net, large NGOs) are important elements of drought risk management in this region, regional cooperation success stories can be seen, but cooperation is still less than optimal.
This case study is a contribution to the GAR Special Report on Drought 2021.
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