CHF's Director of Humanitarian Assistance on Drought Relief in the Horn of Africa

Courtney BrownCHF's Director of Humanitarian Assistance on Drought Relief in the Horn of Africa

This article originally appeared in the Examiner.

CHF International is a Silver Spring based international development organization founded in 1952 that works in conflict-affected and developing countries. They partner with communities around the world to help them to direct the improvement of their lives and livelihoods. Its Director of Humanitarian Assistance, Courtney Brown answered a few questions about the organization’s work in the Horn of Africa. CHF is primarily focused on enabling and training farmers in drought-appropriate farming methods in the Horn of Africa so that they can use their skills to recover financially from this drought, and be resilient in the face of future droughts.

As Director of Humanitarian Assistance of CHF International what work is your department/area doing to impact the drought in the Horn of Africa? What are the short term and long term goals of your work?

CHF International’s focus in the Horn of Africa is to provide assistance that meets immediate needs but also lays the foundation for longer-term recovery. We at CHF know that future droughts will continue to affect the Horn of Africa. Our emergency programs are designed to help families better cope with extended drought periods in the future so that they won’t require aid handouts when the next drought occurs. For example, CHF is working with area farmers to introduce more drought-tolerant crop types that don’t require significant amounts of rainfall to grow. In growing alternative crops better suited for arid environments, families will be able to continue cultivating during future drought periods. The thinking is that a family who is able to continue cultivating is a family whose primary food source is protected and a family that won’t require emergency assistance during the next drought.

CHF is also working with traditional pastoralists whose livelihood revolves around the care of animals. The drought has hit pastoralists especially hard because they have been unable to find water for their animals. As a result of three years with only sporadic rain, many pastoralists have completely lost their herds and are unable to continue with their traditional livelihood.

CHF is working with pastoralists to help them develop alternative life skills so that they can build new livelihoods. This vocational training enables families to move away from a reliance on aid handouts and develop a livelihood that is capable of supporting their family. For example, in many parts of Ethiopia, there is demand for construction workers or radio repair men. CHF works with these former pastoralists to learn their interests and identify their aptitudes and then conducts vocational training courses where they are provided with the basic skills to get a job and earn a modest income. Upon graduation from the vocational training program, CHF works with these men and women to place them in jobs with local businesses where gainful employment can commence.

Is there a particular project that stands out in your mind?

CHF tries to incorporate the use of technology in our emergency programs in order to reach populations that are inaccessible or residing in especially remote areas. In Kenya, CHF is using cell phones as a means to deliver humanitarian assistance. Cell phones are a good medium to deliver assistance because they are very inexpensive and most families will have a SIM card which costs only a few cents in Kenya. Extensive cell phone coverage enables assistance to be moved to vulnerable populations without high logistics costs. By sending credits through mobile phones to families in need, families can exchange these credits at local stores thereby enabling them to buy food or pay medical bills. So the delivery of assistance via cell phones provides immediate relief to families in need while supporting local business by injecting cash (via phone credits) into the local economy. I like this program because it uses a technology that people are familiar with and capitalizes on the reach of that technology to provide timely assistance to populations who may not otherwise receive it.

How can someone in the DC metro area get involved and help?

The best way to support ongoing relief efforts in the Horn of Africa is to support those organizations that already have people on the frontlines carrying out relief operations. Financial support (as opposed to giving clothes or blankets or food) is the best way to support the work of these organizations because it enables them to quickly use those resources in an area where emergency needs are most pronounced.