The aid spending watchdog revealed today that Britain could have alleviated more suffering in the Horn of Africa if it had reacted quicker to last year's food crisis.
The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) said the government's £200 million intervention achieved "good impact and good value for money" but action was delayed because the Department for International Development (DFID) "lacked flexibility" and failed to anticipate adequately the nature of the crisis.
Britain played a central role in the international response last summer as drought led to food shortages affecting 12 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.
"DFID-supported programmes have benefited some of the most vulnerable people in the worst-affected areas. DFID applied good practices," the ICAI said.
"Inflexibility in DFID and the humanitarian system, however, meant that action was delayed.
"Earlier action, especially in Somalia, could have alleviated suffering and, while death rates in Kenya and Ethiopia were not high, both livestock and livelihoods were lost."
The watchdog urged DFID to help develop a better early warning system for the occurrence of such crises in the future.
A DFID spokesman said it was already working to strengthen early warning systems and help people to cope with regular droughts across the region and beyond.
But anti-poverty charity War on Want said that much more was needed to be done.
War on Want international programmes director Graciela Romero said: "The matter is not only about working on efficient early warning mechanisms, which clearly should already exist. The vital issue is to go beyond the one-off reactive and patchy approach towards the global food crisis.
"The UK government must stop promoting policies which create more dependency on food aid and agribusiness packages, which only benefit those profiteering from food aid and people in hunger."
She also called for a ban on "the grabbing of resources by private investors, as well as control over seeds by multinational companies, such as Monsanto, ADM and Cargill. Otherwise, people in sub-Saharan Africa will be condemned to an eternal food crisis."
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