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Britain’s aid for world’s worst food crisis

Britain has stepped in to help hundreds of thousands of people in what The Famine Early Warning Systems Network last month dubbed ‘the most severe food security emergency in the world today’.

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell announced food aid for 1.3 million people in Ethiopia, which, along with much of east Africa faces its worst drought in a decade.

A devastating drought in the Horn of Africa region is sending malnutrition rates soaring and threatening the lives of children throughout the region. A deadly combination of drought, failed harvests and rising food prices have brought severe food shortages across Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda.

More than ten million lives are at risk in east Africa as severe drought grips the region, says the charity, Save The Children, while 250,000 children are seriously malnourished, according to United Nations estimates.

The UK's Department for International Development has already promised the World Food Programme £38m for its work in Ethiopia, and a clutch of Aid Organisations  including Save the Children UK, Oxfam and Christian Aid, launched emergency appeals at the weekend.

Announcing further aid for the region, the Department for International Development warned that the rest of the global community will need to pull its weight if a full-scale disaster is to be avoided.

Britain will pay for the World Food Programme to hand out emergency food for drought-stricken Ethiopians for the next three months to help them through the driest months of the year. Extra food will also be provided for 329,000 malnourished children and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.

But as the emergency appeals get underway, development workers stress a more permanent solution is also crucial. Short-term emergency relief has to be backed up with longer-term plans to help people in these regions to cope when shocks such as drought and failed harvests occur, says Farm-Africa’s Nigel Harris.

"Our role is longer-term development partners, but we know that in this situation you need short and long-term solutions," he told the Guardian. "Emergency providers are vital... but this can't be a permanent solution."

Changes to weather patterns in east Africa over the past few years mean farmers find it much harder to predict when or if the rainy season will begin, and when the rains do come, if there will be too little or too much rain – either can have devastating consequences. Farmers have to be supported to adapt to a rapidly changing environment, says Harris.

"You can't forget this is sub-Saharan Africa,” said Tearfund’s Claire Hancock. “It is a challenging environment and this is going to keep happening for some of these people. And with climate change, this is going to happen more frequently and will be worse each time."

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