ROME, ITALY — The international community convened on July 25 to aid drought- and famine-affected populations in the Horn of Africa with an immediate, twin-track program designed to avert an imminent humanitarian catastrophe and build long-term food security in the region.

The meeting was organized by the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) at the urgent request of the French Presidency of the Group of 20 and was attended by ministers and senior representatives from FAO's 191 member countries, other UN agencies and international and non-governmental organizations.

The food crisis in the Horn of Africa, triggered by drought, conflict and high food prices, is affecting more than 12 million people, with two regions of southern Somalia suffering from famine.

The emergency meeting recognized that, "if this crisis is not quickly contained and reversed, it could grow rapidly into a humanitarian disaster affecting many parts of the greater Horn of Africa region and that it is of paramount importance that we address the needs of the people affected and the livelihood systems upon which they depend for survival.”

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said: "The combined forces of drought, inflation and conflict have created a catastrophic situation that urgently requires massive international support. If we want to avoid future famine and food insecurity crises in the region, countries and the international community urgently need to bolster the agricultural sector and accelerate investments in rural development."

Bruno Le Maire, the French Minister of Agriculture said: "This crisis highlights the need for urgent implementation of the action plan on food price volatility and agriculture adopted by G20 Agriculture ministers on 23 June in Paris, notably regarding international policy coordination, agricultural production and productivity and targeted emergency humanitarian food reserves."

"Many of the women I met in Somalia and Kenya over the past few days had lost their children and had no one to depend on but the humanitarian agencies on the ground," said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran. "This drought has swept the Horn of Africa where more than 11 million people are in need of food assistance. We are particularly worried about Somalia right now and it is vital that we reach those at the epicenter of the famine with food assistance — especially the highly fortified nutritious products that are so important for vulnerable children.

The President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) Kanayo F. Nwanze said: "Building resilience of farming and herding communities in the Horn of Africa and the world over requires a long-term commitment. But time — as we can see from the devastating situation in the Horn of Africa — is running out. Increased investment in sustainable agriculture needs to happen now, so that when the next drought comes, wherever in the world, there will be less suffering, less desperation. Even if the rains fail, we cannot."

Oxfam Chief Executive Barbara Stocking said: "Lives in East Africa hang in balance, now, today. World leaders have no excuses for not generously responding. There can be no problem more pressing, more acute, more urgent than millions of people staring at the specter of starvation in this part of Africa. This should not be happening. It is a colossal outrage that the warnings went unheeded, that the lessons of previous famines have been ignored. Yes, we need to save lives today, but we also need to ensure that people have a future. Above all we need to build a global food system that allows everyone enough to eat."

Attendees at the meeting agreed that governments of the six countries hit by the crisis would manage the response to the crisis, informed by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee's (IASC) Horn of Africa Plan of Action.

Attendees stressed that there is still a "window of opportunity" to support affected populations to resume their livelihoods and to enable farmers, fishers and herders to help themselves through these times of crisis within their own communities and emphasized that displacement of populations should be avoided as far as possible.

Securing long-term food and nutrition security in the Horn of Africa requires focusing on a range of humanitarian issues affecting the region, including conflict, preservation of humanitarian space, nutrition, disaster risk reduction, health and education services and climate change adaptation and mitigation. In addition, sustainable agriculture needs to become an investment priority along with policies that will help it expand. The issue of women's workload and their control of productive resources should also be addressed.

"We commit to an immediate and appropriate response to ensure that affected countries and communities have the capacity to preserve the vulnerable livelihoods on which so many people's lives depend while building long-term resilience and safeguarding the foundations of food security to ensure sustainable reduction of hunger and malnutrition," the group concluded.