With a myriad of dramatic crises from Gaza to the Ukraine vying for our attention it is little wonder that certain issues fail to register either in the media or in our list of priorities. Drought and famine by their very nature tend to be incremental and thus invariably lack the impact factor until things are almost too late. The absence of rain and the scarcity of water whilst lacking the immediate drama of all out conflict or a downed passenger airliner are just as deadly. At present whole swathes of the Horn of Africa are in grave peril due to a paucity of rain, not just this year, but for a number of years. Countries that are already politically or economically fragile are now facing a situation that will take them to the very brink of the Abyss. Whilst no one disputes that there are countless calls on precious resources, what is beginning to unfold is a situation that is fast moving towards a disaster, one that directly or indirectly will impact upon us all.
The issue of access to clean water and water security is one that sadly has been overlooked for far too long. With populations set to rise, especially in the developing world, the pressure on water resources will increase, with aqua waters a very real prospect in the near future. At the very least there needs to be an international summit that seeks to provide a co-ordinated response with regard to immediate needs as well as to plan to address water conservation and the equitable distribution of precious resources. The polarised nature of the climate change debate must not be allowed to obscure the fact that when it comes to population and demographics the evidence is clear. I believe that political will as well as humankind’s remarkable ingenuity can affect positive change and help avert disaster.
The Horn of Africa, with its dependence on a pastoralist and semi-pastoralist activity is particularly susceptible to the threat of drought. Currently Somaliland, Puntland, parts of Ethiopia and Kenya are enduring one of the driest years in memory. Grazing is fast running out and precious livestock is dying. Food and water are at dangerously low levels and with food prices spiralling many families have been plunged into destitution and despair. If matters are not addressed as a matter of urgency not only will we witness famine and death, but much of the progress made in stabilising this fragile region will be undermined. There is already anecdotal evidence of an upsurge in the exodus of individuals prepared to risk perilous journeys by land or sea to find security elsewhere. Furthermore, such conditions are likely to be exploited by disparate groups intent on garnering new recruits for their nefarious activities.
Whilst we may not be able to predict with certainty what rains will fall or not in the coming weeks and months, we can at least ensure that the plight of communities across the Horn is moved up the international agenda. Time as ever is of essence if this death by stealth is to be prevented. I implore all governments to look afresh at what they are doing in this regard and to resolve to ensure that for the Horn and for the wider world there is a far greater emphasis on water security in policy, planning and prioritisation.
Mark T Jones
International Speaker & Leadership Specialist