Regional development bloc, IGAD and humanitarian agencies are asking countries in the Horn of Africa to open up borders and share data on the number of people in need of food.
At a workshop in Nairobi on Friday organised by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), participants said efforts to combat the effects of the current drought in the region could be more effective if countries shared information.
“The ministers and partners do hereby agree to strengthen regional, national and sub-national drought response coordination, as well as support integrated cross-border management across the region,” the meeting said in a communiqué.
Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti and Uganda are battling the effects of drought which has seen 17 million in the region considered food insecure, ten million of who are in urgent need of food, according to the UN.
Ministers and commissioners charged with disaster risk management were meeting with humanitarian agencies to discuss the current drought situation.
In Kenya alone, three million people are threatened by drought but the figure could rise to 4 million especially due to insufficient rains.
While the officials here agreed that the response to the drought has been better than five years ago, they argued countries must collaborate since some people become refugees during drought.
“Our early warning systems were stronger this year than in 2011. But our recovery and response mechanisms should be in sync,” said Mahboub Maalim, the Executive Secretary of the eight-member-country IGAD.
“Opening up the borders not only allows closer collaboration and urgent help, it also opens up markets which provide resilience to the communities,” he argued.
At the end of the meeting, the officials “agreed to harmonise data and information management platforms on drought to improve responsive planning and investment.”
The idea of collaboration among these countries has been on the table for years, often agreed but less implemented.
At the height of drought in 2011, IGAD officials met in Nairobi in September (2011) and agreed to “enhance resilience, promote long-term solutions and boost disaster risk management capacities in the region.” They never did.
In 2012, a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said at least 260,000 people had from hunger in the Horn, half of who were children, mostly because of slow response to the situation.
At the time, a food shortage had been predicted from 2010, warning that there could famine because of poor rains. But donors only acted after famine was declared in parts of Somalia in July 2011.
Some countries were accused of understating figures of those in need while others sat on monies, failed to provide security needed to supply relief food or simply did not help.
In the current situation, officials agreed they need to do more to combat malnutrition and establish long-term programmes.
In Kenya, 1.1 million children are in need of food while 100,000 of them under five are suffering severe malnutrition with 174,000 others have dropped out of school for lack of what to eat.
Planning PS Josepheta Mukobe told the Nation the government response has also included what she called “health foods” for children and mothers.
“We are focusing on the vulnerable. In the food we have purchased, a lot of it is meant to replenish their health.
“My Ministry is buying these special foods and we are targeting pregnant, lactating mothers and children. It is a nutrition component that we hope can reverse this trend,” she said.
USAid Country Director for Kenya Karen Freeman argued for a need to “to break the cycle of emergency” and provide resilience to the people.
“We need to be able to measure results of the investments,” she argued saying limited global resources will no longer allow for perennial appeals.
Two weeks ago, the UN announced a Sh17 billion appeal to fund emergency programmes in Kenya following the drought.
Last month, the government said it will require an additional Sh11.4 billion to address food shortage and the attendant rise of malnutrition in the country which had risen to 30 per cent.