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close this bookC.I.S.F.A.M.: Consolidated Information System for Famine Management in Africa - Phase One Report (Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters - World Health Organisation, 1987, 33 p.)
close this folderCHAPTER 1: Famine, Health and Relief: Issues and Observations
View the document1.1. The African Food Crisis
View the document1.2. Famine Relief, Health and Development: Policy Issues

1.2. Famine Relief, Health and Development: Policy Issues

National and international policy set the stage for all famines. Poor policies, both in assistance and in public sector along with armed conflicts heighten a nation’s vulnerability to famine. If proper policies are in place, natural disasters should not evolve into famine.

In Africa, international relief assistance played a major role in response to the 1984 famine. Despite the urgency of the situation, the lesson to be learnt is clearly that of providing relief in ways that could strengthen continuing development activities. Frequently however, emergency mandates of international and multi-lateral bodies lack the flexibility required to integrate relief with development. These restricted mandates preclude integrated planning for relief and development, making it impossible for public sector relief units to plan jointly with development units. Unfortunately, famine relief policies, define a limited period as emergency and thereby encourage thoughtless spending, inappropriate and ineffective action. Emergency funds for famine often can not be used to strengthen primary structures to prevent and mitigate future crises. As a result, the international community repeatedly pays for “curative” response of limited effect, as illustrated by the two massive Sahelian famines within the span of just one decade.

The health sector in acute food crisis, is necessarily pulled into centre stage due to death, disease and acute malnutrition that accompanies famine. Despite the fundamentally socio-economic nature of famines, the potential for the health infrastructure especially within a primary health care context to play a major role in famine management and prevention is significant.

The inadequacies in current emergency and relief policies, both amongst the donors as well as the executing bodies, are perhaps best illustrated by the proliferation of early warning systems in various famine struck countries. Systems financed at great cost, manned by qualified expatriates and requiring stable and functioning logistical and administrative structures have been installed in many countries under the wave of donor empathy with the media coverage of the appalling African famine. As is frequently the case in disaster programmes elsewhere, these efforts are beginning to suffer the effects of lack of interest from both host governments and donor agencies, whose priorities have changed with the easing of the crisis. (International Disaster Institute Seminar, Draft Report, January 1987).

This example only serves to illustrate that disaster or relief programmes in the Third World can only succeed and be maintained on an on-going basis, if it can be approached like any other social or human welfare programme and be completely integrated within the appropriate plan at different administrative levels.

Recently a great deal of effort, good-will and resources have been generated to combat this disaster. Nevertheless, there remains considerable room for improvement in the efficiency and effectiveness of the employment of available resources. Famine is clearly a multisectoral problem that requires long-term solutions. The complexity of the problem explains to a certain extent, the relatively disappointing outcome of action so far taken in Africa.

The principle hurdles to effective interventions were, frequently, inappropriate action, delayed action, insufficient local information, logistical back ups and duplication of efforts. Fortunately, most of these can generally be avoided by timely information and planning, especially if long-term goals are to be achieved via such programmes. Although a great deal of information exists scattered in different organizations. Ignorance of their existance as well as their lack of standardization have resulted in a gross underuse of existing sources.