We know how to prevent famine. 

This was a common refrain mentioned during the recent Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) webinar, Global Hunger Crisis: Risk of Famine in the Horn of Africa. CDP Vice President Regine A. Webster moderated the discussion between Lisa Doughten, director, Humanitarian Financing and Resource Mobilization Division, UN OCHA; Rein Paulsen, director, Office of Emergencies and Resilience, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; and Winfred Wangari, East Africa program manager, ORAM, Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration. Each expert provided insights into how donors can do their part to prevent looming famines. 

Act Fast

High acute food insecurity has risen dramatically since 2016, and the panel experts warned that this trend is not going to reverse itself.

While “famines never come out of the blue,” Paulsen noted that “we simply don't get to the anticipatory reaction that we need at scale as consistently as we need to see.” To solve the problem of resource deployment, Paulsen recommended setting aside famine prevention funds in advance of need and tying their deployment to automatic, objective triggers. 

“We need more flexible financing mechanisms that are connected to triggers that allow us to move quickly as situations deteriorate rather than being driven in the first instance by fiscal years or funding cycles,” Paulsen said. “Experience shows us that if we have to respond at scale after a disaster breaks after we're in the midst of famine, this is typically seven times, or even more expensive than anticipatory reaction scale.”

Give for Resilience

In addition to giving as soon as triggers are reached, Doughten recommended giving for resilience to prevent countries from reaching the point where emergency funding is needed.

“We have to address the drivers of acute food insecurity, and build the resilience of families and communities to prevent famine risk from occurring,” Doughten said. She called for employing diplomacy and exercising political will in these conflicts “to improve disaster preparedness and ensure climate financing and solutions” as well as to “reach the vulnerable countries and people.”

Doughten said more large-scale development assistance needs to be directed to “fragile crisis-affected countries where the needs are greatest and to help us reduce the humanitarian needs and build resilience in a more sustainable way.”

Focus on Marginalized People

Doughten highlighted that women and girls face the highest risk of hunger and rights violations after violence and conflicts. And in many places “women and girls eat last, and unfortunately the least.” Food insecurity also increases the threat of gender-based violence, “including higher levels of intimate partner violence, sexual violence and harassment, exploitation and abuse and child marriage.” 

People who identify as LGBTQI+ are also at heightened risk during these crises. Wangari said that humanitarian organizations that are not collecting gender identity and sexuality data mis-identify people as not being affected by food insecurity. 

Consequently “they don't benefit from assistance that is being provided, or sometimes even vouchers of the food distribution.” Wangari pointed out that in spite of not showing markers of vulnerability in the data, young people (largely between the ages of 20 and 29) often face discrimination which may prevent them from accessing food. Additionally, the exclusion of LGBTQI+ people from economic activities may prevent them from surviving in refugee and famine contexts, even if they have skills and work or business experience. 

Donors can connect with organizations like FAO and ORAN that are working with marginalized groups in the context of food insecurity. These programs work to create sustainable solutions by working with local communities and local organizations directly. 

Watch the full webinar at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.