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Commissioners Georgieva and Piebalgs reflect upon the year since famine was declared in Somalia

A food distribution centre in Ethiopia © EU
20/07/2012  - 

One year ago, the United Nations declared famine in southern Somalia. At that time, the Horn of Africa was seeing the dramatic affects of a major food crisis triggered by drought, conflict, high food prices and the near impossibility of humanitarian organisations accessing the people who needed aid in Somalia. Malnutrition and mortality rates rose to unprecedented levels and hundreds of thousands of refugees from Somalia crossed the border into neighbouring countries, often reaching refugee camps on the verge of death from exhaustion and hunger.

The European Commission and EU Member States responded to the crisis with fast, generous and sustained assistance. Building on its long-established relief programmes in the Horn of Africa, the Commission mobilised a total of €181 million in fresh humanitarian aid in 2011, reaching some 6.5 million people in need of relief. Assistance was then stepped up significantly as the crisis grew worse.

Thanks to the massive international assistance given and the abatement of the drought, the overall situation in the Horn of Africa is today better than at any time during 2011. But the challenges remain huge and there is no room for complacency. Food insecurity continues. There are still close to 9 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

Moreover, the uneven distribution of rains and the conflict in Somalia, which regularly spills over into neighbouring countries, mean that the situation could worsen again. In refugee camps, most notably Dadaab in Kenya, the safety of residents and humanitarian workers is increasingly compromised. This is why the European Commission is not lowering its guard and continues to provide humanitarian assistance that is adequate to the scale of the needs on the ground.

In parallel to massive emergency assistance, the Commission has put in place an approach for the longer term, with the aim of reducing the scale and severity of such crises in the future. Droughts will continue to affect the Horn of Africa, but famine and hunger must be avoided by addressing the root causes of food insecurity and by building countries' and people's resilience to the shocks of climate change.

To this end, the European Commission has launched SHARE – Supporting Horn of Africa Resilience. The approach combines the muscle of all its humanitarian and development aid instruments in order to strengthen the Horn of Africa's resilience to future crises. SHARE is a sign of Europe's long-term commitment to addressing the chronic food insecurity in this region.

As part of SHARE, €250 million is currently being invested in improving ways people can make a living and providing essential public services in the most affected areas of the region. This is Europe's way of providing 'smart aid' – aid that is well-targeted and links immediate measures to long-term efforts to make people more resilient and better able to help themselves.

The hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and caused tremendous suffering to millions of people. To honour the victims of this crisis, and for the sake of their families and compatriots who survived, we are committed to assisting the region avoid further famines.