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As the world commemorates the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought under the theme ‘Rising Up from Drought Together’ the eastern part of the Greater Horn of Africa region is engulfed in yet another severe drought, one considered the worst drought in the region in 40 years. 18 million people are highly food insecure due to drought according to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis, 1.5 million livestock units in Kenya, 1.77 million in Ethiopia (according to IGAD Centre for Pastoral Areas and Livestock Development) and wildlife deaths have been reported. The acute water shortage has driven hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes in search of water and food, high levels of malnutrition, hundreds of schools have closed down as the attendance and dropouts’ numbers have decreased and increased respectively.

Looking back, one of the key contributions of the regional organisation, IGAD, in combating desertification and drought is the establishment and leadership of a regional drought resilience platform. The IGAD Member States and Development Partners agreed to form the IGAD Drought Disaster Resilience and Sustainability Initiative (IDDRSI). The IDDRSI Regional Platform was established at the summit of Heads of State and Government of the IGAD Region, the East African Community (EAC) and Development Partners on September 9, 2011, in Nairobi. 

The platform provides the modalities through which the region’s priorities and possibilities for intervention aimed at achieving the objectives of IDDRSI are collectively discussed by affected countries and development partners; and is an effective mechanism by which the implementation of IDDRSI is coordinated. It brings together the different partners and stakeholders, including the Member States, Development Partners and implementing Partners, including UN agencies, Civil Society and specialised research and training institutions, and the IGAD Secretariat along with its technical institutions. 

Coordination mechanisms, at national and regional levels, linking all drought resilience-enhancing sectors and stakeholders, which are required for the effective implementation of IDDRSI, have been established in all the IGAD Member States under the general coordination of the IGAD Secretariat. 

IDDRSI advocates a coherent architecture of international collaboration that involves the enhanced coordination of the strategic links between and among all actors at all levels, practically reading from the same page. Inter-connected coordination mechanisms at local, national and regional levels that are required for the harmonised implementation of the drought resilience initiative have been established in all the IGAD Member States by agreements reached within the framework of the IDDRSI Platform.

Yet, just over 10 years after the establishment of the Platform, the region finds itself on the brink of yet another highly food insecure situation with increased humanitarian needs, following the persistent, widespread, back-to-back drought conditions from five failed rainfall seasons since 2020. Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti bear the most burden from the drought.

The five failed consecutive rainfall seasons have been characterised by delayed start, irregular distribution, and below average cumulative seasonal rains, while the temperatures have remained above average across the seasons. The preceding and compounding impacts from other drivers of food insecurity, namely desert locusts, covid-19, conflict and insecurity, floods, and macro-economic factors, have exacerbated the impacts of the current prolonged drought which in itself is the longest drought period recorded in the region in 40 years, which was highlighted in a Joint Alert in May 2022 issued by meteorological agencies and humanitarian partners.

IGAD through its climate centre – ICPAC developed a drought monitoring system named the East Africa Drought Watch. This system enables analysis of the current situation on the ground to facilitate appropriate response and enables us to understand drought patterns over time. ICPAC is currently working on drought forecast component from the Drought Watch System. While early warning systems have improved regionally and globally, the current plight highlights the gap between early warning and early action and the missing crucial early-action-financing mechanism at both government and the humanitarian level. 

Also, desertification and drought interventions at IGAD are tackled at both grass root and policy levels through its Centre for Pastoral Areas and Livestock Development. With drought being a recurring phenomenon in the Horn of Africa, ICPALD’s drought mitigation interventions have been on water management practices and re-seeding of community land.

Under the IGAD Livestock Centre’s Regional Pastoral Livelihood Resilience Programme, we organised exchange visits between member States to learn about the construction and management of sand dams, earth dams and boreholes conducted. For example, in Ethiopia, a total of 11,016.4 ha of rangelands were rehabilitated through re-seeding, and eight fodder banks were developed with an estimated 117,278 bales of forage produced. This reduced the incidences of water and forage shortage (drought) and became a source of income for the pastoralists, enabling them to build assets by buying livestock from income earned from sales of seed and forage.

Climate change strongly impacts livestock production through direct (heat stress) but primarily by its indirect effects on water and feed availability/ quality and diseases. Over the past decades, IGAD, as well as other institutions, have developed and to varying degrees, implemented strategies and other policy efforts at the regional level for Eastern Africa. Many of these address climate change and livestock sector development, with a significant crossover between the two themes. 

Other IGAD programmes and initiatives aimed at mitigating the effects of drought and combatting desertification were undertaken, including the IGAD Inland Water Resources Management Programme (INWRMP), which came up with a regional water policy and water information system. It also provided training for a number of experts at the MSc level in integrated water resources management. Furthermore, it promoted water harvesting in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs). Another programme was the IGAD Biodiversity Management Programme (IGAD-BMP) which also developed a regional biodiversity policy and a regional biodiversity protocol to implement the regional policy; all these to harmonise national-level approaches while regionally and holistically integrating the struggle against drought and desertification. 

Let us recall at this stage that the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) was primarily set up in 1986 as the Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Desertification (IGADD) to tackle the impacts of drought by enabling collective action in the Horn of Africa, where climatic conditions are primarily arid and semi-arid and cover 70% of the region’s land mass. 

Every disaster is a step back in the development efforts. The impacts affect livelihoods that in turn trigger resource-based conflicts, cause displacement and prolong the humanitarian crisis. Decision makers and resource mobilisers yet again need to act to keep the promise to ensure no human life is lost; the needs remain for food and water supply, health and nutrition.

The prolonged nature of the ongoing drought, the trend of increasing droughts in the region and the climate change projections that warn of increased frequency and intensity of climate extreme events also highlight the need for a shift from humanitarian response to development-centred interventions that seek to build long-term resilience of communities, nations and the region. 

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