Continue to blame it on the rain? Conceptualization of drought and failure of food systems in the Greater Horn of Africa

Sofie Sandstrom*, Sirkku Juhola

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Food insecurity continues to be prevalent in parts of Africa. In December 2015, there were approximately 21.6 million food insecure people in the Horn and East Africa. Climate change is likely to exacerbate current volatility of agricultural production and lead to further food insecurity. Whilst the academic literature has acknowledged the complexity of food insecurity and systems, it is not clear to what extent this has been translated into practice. We argue that there is a tendency to explain complex failures of food systems as ‘droughts’, with insufficient attention paid to other drivers. We analyse humanitarian documents and climate outlook statements in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia and assess how these are reflected in the humanitarian responses to food insecurity in the region by analysing the financing of humanitarian operations. Our findings indicate that the continued evolution in understanding the complex causes of food insecurity and attempts to move away from emergency relief to a more sophisticated approach has not translated into an observable change in humanitarian responses. The reasons behind this persistence of short-term relief, which is being justified with reference to climatic factors, mainly drought, would warrant further research into the decision-making process that triggers humanitarian responses. List of abbreviations: ACF: Action Contre le Faim; DCM: Drought Cycle Management; DEC: Disaster Emergency Committee; ECHO: European Commission Humanitarian Office; EU: European Union; EWS: Early Warning System; FAO: Food and Agricultural Organization; FEWSNET: Famine Early Warning System Network; FSNAU: Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit; FTS: Financial Tracking Service; GHACOF: Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum; GIEWS: Global Information and Early Warning System; IASC: Inter Agency Standing Committee; ICPAC: IGAD Climate Application and Prediction Centre; IFRC: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; IGAD: Inter-Governmental Authority on Development; IPCC: International Panel for Climate Change; LEWS: Livestock Early Warning System; ODI: Overseas Development Initiative; PASDEP: Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to Eradicate Poverty; PSNP: Productive Safety Net Programme; UNDRO: United Nations Disaster Relief Office; UNISDR: United Nations International; UN OCHA: United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; USAID: United States Agency for International Development; WFP: World Food Programme

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-91
Number of pages21
Issue number1
Early online date15 Sep 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • climate change
  • Food security
  • humanitarian response


Dive into the research topics of 'Continue to blame it on the rain? Conceptualization of drought and failure of food systems in the Greater Horn of Africa'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this