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East Africa: reducing risk in a changing climate

Children and adults in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are no strangers to the impact nature can have on their lives and livelihoods. The interaction between the environment in East Africa and the people who live there, is part of life. The production of food and availability of water depends greatly on the weather – and the knock-on effects are felt in many parts of life.

Every drop of water is important, and naturally East Africa is a dry place. When the rains fail — as they have done this year and as they did last year and countless times in the past — the impacts are strongly felt. Children stop going to school in order to work to help the family and many spend hours walking further to collect water. Health suffers as families are malnourished. People might sell important assets (in particular livestock) at an unusually low price just to pay for food.

Rainfall in East Africa, as elsewhere in the world, is increasingly unpredictable, and will become more so in the future. For people who live there, this means enduring more frequent droughts and floods and adapting everyday life for survival in a more extreme environment. At some point the everyday challenges of living in this environment can culminate in disaster.

This is why it’s important to recognise ‘early warning’ signs of drought, and of food crisis, and act fast.

Prevention is better than cure

Responding to a disaster, whether it be a flood or landslide or drought and food crisis, is a costly business. But it needs doing. Depending on who you ask, the cost of preventing the disaster in the first place can save a lot of money in the long run. The UK Department for International Development (DFID) just published an independent review on humanitarian aid, which says said that, on average, for every £1 spent on disaster prevention, £4 in response can be saved.

The economic argument is bolstered by common sense. Prevention is better than cure. In East Africa, this is where adapting to climate change overlaps with disaster risk reduction (DRR). It’s about reducing the risk, and ensuring communities are prepared for disasters like floods and landslides. It’s also about people developing the way they live every day so that they can continue to earn a living, go to school, feed their families and enjoy life.

Disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in East Africa

We have worked in East Africa for more than 40 years, and the work we do to build resilience to climate change and prevent disasters is an important element of that work.

Disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation are proving to be life savers — and children know it. Last month, the Children’s Charter for disaster risk reduction was presented by children to a global conference – and they really made waves.

In Somalia, we’re carrying out disaster risk reduction activities through our ongoing education programmes. Educational packs for  children and young people focus on reducing the risks associated with a potential drought or other natural disasters.

In Ethiopia we work with communities to establish community-based early warning systems which help people to recognise and understand the signs of drought and act to prevent food crises. Our work in the country draws on local knowledge and expertise about weather patterns and livelihoods and combines them with government data to warn communities directly, well in advance of a disaster.

Early warning systems help governments, donors and organisations like Save the Children prepare and react quickly to a humanitarian disaster. And importantly, as in Ethiopia, they help communities to recognise the signs, assess their situation and prepare themselves so, if at all possible, they don’t have to ask for assistance.

Acting and Adapting, Now

The urgency of the situation is demonstrated by the growing frequency of drought and water shortages. Disaster risk reduction work  closely relates to learning about how we can reduce the pressure of climate change on people’s livelihoods and build people’s resilience for the long term.

For people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, that obviously doesn’t mean getting an office job. It might mean relying on more than just agriculture for income. It might mean improving water resource management. It might mean growing different crops. It could be a combination of these or any number of other things so they’re more resilient when the next drought hits.

There are lots of options, and we all realise the need to get moving now. So why wait until the next disaster?

We are helping millions of children who are facing life-threatening hunger and thirst in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia. Please help us read more.

Read about the DFID Humanitarian Emergency Response Review

For more information about early warning systems in Ethiopia see our 2009 report, Hungry for Change.

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