Giving rapid help to herders Horn of Africa countries - where the weather has become ever-more unpredictable - can reduce the impact of drought and avert humanitarian emergencies, a UN Food and Agriculture Organisation report said on Thursday.
"Protecting livelihoods before disasters strike means greater resilience to future shocks, and less pressure on strained humanitarian resources,” said the director of FAO's Emergency and Rehabilitation Division's Strategic Programme on Resilience, Dominique Burgeon.
“Acting early is crucial and possible, and it is also the responsible thing to do. There is mounting evidence that the earlier we respond, the greater the capacity of communities to cope,” said Burgeon.
Natural disasters are on the rise in the region and it is also cost-effective to mobilise interventions as soon as drought looms, according to the FAO report.
For every dollar FAO spent on early livestock interventions in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia in early 2017 as herders braced for another harsh drought, each family saw benefits worth up to 9 dollars due to fewer of their animals dying of hunger and disease and a three-fold increase in milk production, the report said.
The help to thousands of vulnerable herders centred on distributing highly nutritious emergency feed for key breeding animals; providing veterinary services to keep animals alive and healthy; rehabilitating water points and installing water tanks; delivering training on livestock best practices and management of livestock markets to government officers.
As a result, in Kenya, on average two more animals were saved per pastoralist family compared to those who did not receive assistance; each child under five in the programme drank about half a litre of milk more per day, which represent a quarter of the daily calories and 65 percent of the daily protein needs of a five-year-old, said the report.
At the peak of the drought, herds assisted by FAO were not only surviving, but were strong and producing three times the usual amount of milk. Families who received assistance reported that their animals were in much better health and condition.
Herders were also able to better safeguard their future as losing their animals means losing their life savings and becoming reliant on much more expensive emergency assistance, fuelling a "dangerous spiral of poverty," FAO noted.
FAO's interventions in Kenya - and in Somalia and Ethiopia- helped pastoralists to protect their core breeding herds, which in turn allowed them to keep their children healthy and in school – an important investment in their future, the UN agency underlined.
Kenyan herders who did not benefit from early assistance were forced to sell double the number of animals as prices slumped from 80 to 30 dollars. They also killed almost three times as many of their animals - for food and to ease the burden of feeding them, FAO reported.
In Somalia, it cost about 40 cents to provide veterinary treatment to a goat, and 40 dollars to buy a new one. By treating over 1 million animals belonging to nearly 180,000 people in the worst hit areas of Somaliland and Puntland, FAO helped herders save over 40 million dollars and to produce enough milk to nourish 80,000 vulnerable mothers and children.
Overall, FAO assisted more than 7 million Somalis and these activities also helped kick-start a large-scale and effective famine-prevention programme, the agency said.
In Ethiopia, for every dollar FAO invested in protecting over 100,000 animals owned by 60,000 people in the worst hit areas of Somali region, each herding family gained 7 dollars in benefits, said the agency.