Somalia: Oxfam, Save the Children admit responsibility in famine

NAIROBI, Kenya — Aid agencies are regularly accused of being unaccountable — whether to those they're supposed to help or to the ordinary folks who fund them with donations — but in an unusual move two of the biggest, Oxfam and Save the Children, have held themselves (and others) to account for the slow response to the drought in the Horn of Africa last year that they admit probably cost thousands of lives.

More from GlobalPost: Oxfam withdraws staff from South Sudan border

Here's an excerpt from the report "A Dangerous Delay" (PDF):

Thousands of needless deaths occurred and millions of extra dollars were spent because the international community failed to take decisive action on early warnings of a hunger crisis in East Africa.

The two agencies blame "a culture of risk aversion" among donors and NGOs, which meant the specially-built early warning system, FEWSNET, worked but was ignored until it was too late. Widespread food shortages were first predicted in August 2010, but there was almost no response from donor governments until the UN officially declared a famine in some parts of Somalia in July 2011.

More from GlobalPost: "Tens of thousands will have died" in Somalia famine, UN says

Why the delay? There's plenty of blame to go round. Partly it was down to seen-it-all-before world-weariness, partly the failure of aid workers on the ground to persuade their bosses of the seriousness of the situation, partly it was the fault of regional governments in Ethiopia and Kenya who wanted to downplay the crisis because it would make them look incompetent, partly it was the fault of donors who rather than heed warning systems they themselves had funded preferred to wait until catastrophe struck before stumping up more cash.

Good to see a self-critical look at what the aid response to what was the first famine of this century, but will it really change anything? There is — so the aid agencies tell us — another food crisis looming in the Sahel. The warnings are already being issued. Will the reaction to this one be any different?

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.