Building resilience in the Horn of Africa

See below for a guest blog from Abomsa Kebede, Technical Advisor for Save the Children in Ethiopia. This post describes the benefits of USAID’s new resilience strategy, which was unveiled today. This is the seventh post in our field feedback series and the third in Save’s “Aid Reform Stories from the Field” series. Click the links to read posts from Save the Children in Guatemala and MalawiWomen Thrive in Ghana, Oxfam America in Uganda, Management Sciences for Health in Bolivia, and PATH in Kenya.


Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Two-year-old Lokko Godana drinks cow’s milk every morning. The milk is rich in proteins and vitamins, providing Lokko the nutrition she needs to supplement a daily diet of maize porridge. Lack of access to animal milk was the primary cause of her malnutrition last year when the drought slowed cow milk production in the southern pastoral areas of Ethiopia. With supplementary feeding for the cattle, milk production increased and Lokko’s health improved.

Malnutrition accounts for 53 percent of infant and child deaths in Ethiopia and children in pastoralist communities are among the most nutritionally vulnerable in the country due to recurrent and prolonged periods of drought. The lack of rainfall devastates fodder and water sources for cattle and other animals, decreasing milk production and putting children under five at risk of severe malnutrition.

For decades, Save the Children Ethiopia has been working with pastoralist families in Ethiopia to help them plan for, manage, and recover from drought emergencies. While we cannot stop droughts, there are successful strategies to lessen their impact.

One significant challenge in responding early to a severe drought is getting needed resources to communities fast. Speed is critical to preventing malnutrition. In the past, to receive disaster-related funding, Save the Children and other groups had to make new applications for funding to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other donors, which often takes weeks or even months to process. This has been necessary because USAID and other donors historically have run emergency and development programs on separate tracks with separate funding sources, application processes, and program objectives. This has meant that even when we see a drought coming, we don’t typically have the flexibility to reprogram resources or receive new resources quickly in order to avert severe hunger and lack of nourishment, despite having existing relationships and funding mechanisms in place.

USAID is changing this way of working. Today USAID will unveil a new resilience strategy to support chronically risk-prone communities in between, before and after the repeat cycles of disaster. Furthermore, the agency will begin to broadly apply instruments, such as the “crisis modifier”, to quicken the pace of disaster response in the Horn of Africa and in other regions. The crisis modifier is a program component written into a cooperative agreement targeting drought-prone areas. USAID has integrated this option into development programs to reduce the processing and approval for emergency funding, even before a disaster strikes.

USAID already has implemented the crisis modifier successfully in my country for years. For example, in a project that I help manage, called “Pastoral Livelihoods Initiative,” or PLI, funded by USAID, the crisis modifier can make the difference between life and death for livestock – and malnutrition for kids. When the drought hits, the crisis modifier allows emergency programs to begin immediately by adding funds provided by USAID’s “Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance” (OFDA), to our existing PLI grant enabling Save the Children and our project partners to address the crisis early and limit its effects. The emergency funds help to prevent livestock loss through activities such as supplementary livestock feeding and commercial destocking to help families sell livestock ahead of a drought and then replace them after the drought. In response to the emergency in 2011, USAID programmed approximately $1.6 million through the crisis modifier to the consortium led by Save the Children under the second phase of the PLI project. As a result, this project was able to lessen the impact of the drought for more than 180,000 people.

USAID is not planning to create a new bureau to implement their resilience agenda, but instead will bring all bureaus together—OFDA, Food for Peace, Global Health, Food Security, Climate Change and others—to do more joint problem solving and planning. Instead of sending multiple teams out to target countries to complete separate analyses and action plans, USAID has launched “joint planning cells” from these bureaus to connect staff in the field and in Washington. These joint planning cells set objectives, design projects, and develop procurements around the same problems of community vulnerability, looking at both immediate and long term needs. This joint approach appears to be paying dividends.

While recognizing that the resilience approach, crisis modifier, and joint planning cells are not yet standard practice across USAID programs, I believe they show good progress in the right direction. While developed initially for the case of Ethiopia, USAID is looking for ways to introduce the crisis modifier to other disaster-prone countries around the world. Just in the Horn of Africa, USAID is seeking to directly benefit 10 million people and reduce the numbers of people that need emergency assistance by one million over five years through resilience-focused programming.

We as Ethiopians feel that our government and local institutions should increasingly lead, manage, and apply these disaster risk management techniques in a way that is most appropriate for our communities. Moreover, we need to create early warning systems for livestock crises and community-based resilience funds that are coordinated with the Ethiopian government’s emergency response. Already the Ethiopian government has adopted some PLI best practices in its national emergency livestock guidelines.

USAID must play a strong leadership role with the Ethiopian government and other donors to ensure that resilience is not just another fad but a meaningful and sustainable step forward in changing how all national and global institutions address recurrent crises. Kids like Lokko are counting on it.



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