|Famine, Needs-Assessment and Survival Strategies in Africa (Oxfam)|
1 Famine in Africa in 1991 did not occur with the severity that had been widely predicted, despite widespread shortfalls in relief deliveries.
2 There were, however, significant incidencesof increased malnutrition and mortality, as well as widespread suffering, and depletion of economic assets.
3 In Red Sea Hills, Sudan, such evidence of famine was seen despite the large quantities of relief delivered from June 1991.
4 A number of weaknesses in the existing system of needs-assessment are identified, although it is acknowledged that needs-assessment is an extremely difficult task in the African context. These weaknesses include inadequate attention to entitlements, trade, and health needs. As far as assessing crops is concerned, there is a need for continuous assessment during the entire growing season, rather than snapshot assessments by short-term missions. More needs to be done to bring together and assess data already being collected by local officials. Weaknesses in the existing system of needs-assessment help to explain why famine was less severe in 1991 than had been widely predicted.
5 Also significant in explaining why famine was less severe than predicted was a wide variety of survival strategies.
6 However, many of these carried important 'costs' in terms of human suffering, and damage to future production and food security (for example, through damaging the environment, through taking labour away from productive activity, and through sale of productive assets).
7 There are particularly grave dangers—in terms of risk of death, in terms of jeopardizing future production, and in terms of human suffering—in the argument that 'going hungry' constitutes an acceptable survival strategy.
8 Rather than envisaging survival strategies as an alternative to relief, or as making relief unnecessary, it is important that relief operations be designed with these strategies in mind. The idea that rural people have sophisticated survival strategies should not be used as an excuse for doing nothing in terms of relief
9 Agencies and major donors should not support 'indigenous survival strategies' in an undiscriminating way. However, provision of the right kind of relief at the right time can play a major role in supporting survival strategies in a way that reduces or removes the need for rural people to resort to those types of strategy that are actively damaging. Ensuring adequate supplies of cheap grain in a crisis and protecting entitlements more generally) can often boost production as well as consumption, by preventing practices that erode productive assets, including the environment.
10 There may be very severe constraints to the pursuit of survival strategies political, military, economic). More though needs to be given as to how to reduce some of these constraints. Where constraints on survival strategies are particularly great, emergency relief is likely to be of critical importance.