Sunday, July 31, 2011

Horn of Africa Crisis: Opportunity for Paradigm Shift

Jeff Sachs is a rare kind of economist. He is one of the most outstanding intellectuals I have had the privilege and honor to know, work with and learn from.

Prof. Sachs authority and leadership on the global campaign against poverty has given him an enduring global prominence and unmatched influence.

As the Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia, Sachs has demonstrated remarkable leadership and intellectual stewardship of one of the best institutions of interdisciplinary scholarship of our time.

However, Jeff Sachs absolute trust and faith in power of aid is problematic at best. Aid and foreign assistance tends to preface and frame most of Sachs' understanding of the opportunities and solution domains for development challenges, especially in Africa. Much less in Asia.

Do not get me wrong. Aid when targeted can make available considerable global public investment that can for example, fund immunization campaigns, improve sanitation, subsidize the vital inputs farmers need and provide a hot meal that keeps kids in school.

But I like to think of aid as firs aid. A kind of measure to stop the bleeding. A temporary remedy that must yield to evidence-based differential diagnosis of the fundamental structural and institutional causes of the 'development' problem.

Too often, promoting aid-based solutions absolves governments and communities from the responsibility of thinking hard about long term systemic solutions to their problems.

The catastrophic drought ravaging the Horn of Africa is a scar on our conscience. It is a shameful and tragic indictment of policy failure.

In article posted in the Guardian, Sachs presents a brilliant analysis of the profound human disaster that is unfolding.

Jeff Sachs, brilliantly puts his finger on the root causes of the crisis in the Horn of Africa i.e.," poverty and vulnerability of pastoralist and agro-pastoralist populations". Great diagnosis!

And Prof. Sachs, like a good physician offers a treatment plan. Unsurprising, he prescribes that the international community must respond with $1b to forestall the catastrophe, and time is of essence.

Absolutely. These resources must be made available to avert a shameful humanitarian disaster.

But I am concerned that Prof. Sachs has not offered any thoughts on how we could grapple with poverty and vulnerability of pastoral societies in the long term.

As Jeff Sachs notes, the entry of the Gulf states and the Islamic Development Bank will make up for aid shortfalls from the US and the EU.

But I think the entry of the Gulf states and Islamic Development Bank offers an opportunity to frame the response strategy not in terms of aid but long term investments that can deal with the root causes of the crisis.

Here is Prof. Jeff Sachs.

The Horn of Africa crisis is a warning to the world

The crisis in the Horn of Africa is a profound human disaster in the making and a warning to the world. More than 11 million Africans, mainly pastoralists in the dry lands of Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and neighbouring countries, are at risk of starvation after two failed rainy seasons. They need urgent help to stay alive, and governments and NGOs are in place to deliver that help if the needed financing is confirmed immediately. An estimated $1bn is needed urgently, equal to $1 from each person in the high-income world.

The warning is also clear. The Horn of Africa is the world's most vulnerable region, beset by extreme poverty, hunger and global climate change, notably a drying and warming of the climate during the past quarter century. These scourges are leading to the spread of violence and war, and war is contributing to global instability. Unless we confront the challenges of the Horn of Africa at their root causes – the poverty and vulnerability of pastoralist and agro-pastoralist populations – we will face burgeoning violence in the Horn of Africa, Yemen and beyond. The world would be gravely endangered and the trillions of dollars that would eventually be spent on military responses would prove useless to stem to unrest. Hunger cannot be overcome with violence.

The west has contributed to the region's crisis through global climate change that victimises the lives and livelihoods of the people of the region. It is time that we act to help the region strengthen the pastoralist economies in the face of these environmental threats. We must not only provide emergency aid but move beyond it, to help these impoverished regions escape from extreme poverty and become more resilient to climate change. By supporting the sustainable development of pastoralism in the Horn of Africa we will not only save lives but help to end wars and the spread of global instability.

The "traditional donors", including the US and the EU, have fallen far short of promises they made at the G8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, in 2009 to assist smallholder farmers, including pastoralists. Both the US and the EU are in a deep political and financial crisis, meaning that neither is likely to step forward with the scale of emergency and long-term aid to the Horn of Africa that they should normally be expected to fulfill.

In this situation, it is heartening that the Gulf countries, including members of the GCC, have demonstrated a readiness to step up their assistance to the Horn of Africa, just across the Red Sea. These countries are experiencing an impressive rise in export earnings this year, giving them the opportunity to scale up their regional and global leadership as well. The Islamic Development Bank, the leading financing institution of the 57 countries of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC), has also shown impressive and inspiring dynamism as well as a commitment to the countries in crisis in the Horn of Africa.

New donors, in short, are stepping forward to help fill the urgent needs of the Horn of Africa. Time is extremely short and the needs are great. Generosity and speed are of the essence.
Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone from Zain Kenya

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