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World Must Overcome Psychological, Organizational, Political Barriers To Heed Early Famine Warnings

Psychological, organizational and budgetary factors contributed to why governments did not respond sooner to early famine warnings in the Horn of Africa, Hugo Slim, a visiting fellow at the Institute of Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict at the University of Oxford, says in this Guardian opinion piece. In a new report (.pdf), Save the Children and Oxfam “suggest that government officials were reluctant to call a crisis until there was a crisis”; that organizing “NGOs and U.N. agencies to agree the scale of a problem and then to act in concert is always going to be difficult”; and that, “[m]ore importantly, budgets are still divided too strictly between emergency and development funds,” he writes.

“[B]ut international politics is only one part of the complex problem of famine prevention. The other is national politics,” Slim says, adding, “It is politicians in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia who bear primary responsibility for preventing famine among their citizens. … [T]heir hesitations, conflicts, and power plays are just as much to blame for the late response to this famine.” He concludes, “In many ways, the international aid system is now functioning as a nascent global safety net,” which is “real progress,” and “[a]ll of us should expect our politicians and civil servants to pay special attention to the early-warning systems that guide this safety net” (1/18).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.