John Munyes became an MNA in Kenyas Parliament in the 1990s, representing the outpost of Turkana, a desert and semi-desert land with half a million people. During the colonial time, its main town was used as a high security prison for the first post-independence President, Jomo Kenyatta, and other Mau Mau leaders. It was a godforsaken place, and it still is, on the border of where human beings can live, and those who do try as best to survive as nomadic pastoralists. There is also a large lake known as Lake Turkana, which the Brits called Lake Rudolf, with fish resources. There is a road to Turkana now, built by Norwegian development aid in the early 1980s, connecting the land with the rest of Kenya and the world. Droughts and famines occur every six to eight years or so, in Turkana, in neighbouring Karamoja in Uganda, in South Sudan, in Ethiopia, and indeed in Somalia further to the east and north. Munyes is fair-skinned, not dark as the other Turkana people, because his grandfather was as a boy kidnapped from Ethiopia. He was a tall and slender man when we first met; now a few decades later, he has put on weight, as most politicians and the rest of us do when we live in affluence. Yet, when I spoke to John on the mobile phone last Sunday, he had not forgotten his childhood. He was worried about the current drought in Kenya affecting at least 10 percent of the population, and their tragedy in Somalia. He told me that when he first experienced drought in Turkana, he was a very small boy; he would not have made it if it were not for the missionaries, who distributed food aid they received from the World Food Programme (WFP) and others; the same was the case when he was a young teenager. John did well at school, and he became one of the select few who attended the only secondary school in the area. After that, he landed a job in the British charity, Oxfam, and from there he became an MNA by the time he was 30. He had decided from young age that he was going to make a difference in the lives of the poor people in Turkana. What went wrong, because there is again famine and starvation this year at this very time? Why was the preparation for response so unsatisfactory? In spite of Johns good intentions, little seems to have changed from the time he was a young man. Human rights activists have claimed that the Kenya government had been slumbering. John has done well for himself, though. He is a senior MNA now; he has been a Deputy Minister; he owns a transport company, which has had many contracts to bring food and other supplies to Turkana during times of famine, and certainly, to the large camp for South Sudanese refugees. Well, now many of them have returned home since South Sudan became the worlds news country a few months ago, the 197th member of the United Nations. In the 1990s, I worked with Munyes, together with a senior Catholic priest, who was also a Turkana specialist and a Professor in Nairobi. Many NGOs had flocked to Turkanas main towns, but it was too remote for most bilateral and multilateral donor agencies to visit. However, some aid did come in. We all hoped we could end the tragic history of Turkana, with reoccurring droughts and their tragic outcomes. We established the Turkana Development Forum, working with all three MNAs from Turkana, the provincial administration, the NGOs, local people, donors, and so on. Baseline studies and other reports were prepared. We advocated a boost of primary and secondary education so that the next generation would be able to take a more informed part in their own districts development, and so that they could also be able to leave the area and have a chance to be employed elsewhere in the country. Not least important, we tried to study the establishment of livelihoods; such as irrigation of agricultural land; canning of goat meet; preservation of skins and hides; and other things we could think of. One particularly important resource in Turkana is fish in Lake Turkana. We looked at ways of drying and preserving the fish so that it could be used in the district itself, and sold out of the area to give income to the people. Alas, close to nothing of this has happened, leaving the people even poorer and more destitute than before, because the population grew and the traditional livelihoods have remained the same. More than 30 years ago, Norwegian development aid financed the building of the road to Turkana, and other major development aid was provided to the district. Livelihoods development was high on the agenda, along with education and womens issues. The Norwegians thought that they could deepfreeze fish and send it on to the world marked. A huge fish processing plant was built, with diesel generators installed to produce electricity. It did not take many weeks for the good men in Turkana to realise that the cost of processing the fish would be many times higher than that of doing the same on Kenyas coast, and then they had not even included the cost of getting the fish transported a 150 kilometres to the seaport. The Norwegians suffered much ridicule for their 'white elephant project. Yet, what they did was exactly what we have to do in every area with drought and famine - in Kenya, Pakistan and elsewhere: We have to look for sustainable ways out of poverty. We have to find ways so that humanitarian and development aid will not be needed, and if required it leads to prosperity, or at least bearable living standards. The Norwegians did not succeed in Turkana, but their intentions were right. They should not have been so easily intimidated by Betterwissers writing books and newspaper articles. They should have been their usual self: Stubborn and persistent. Then Turkana might have avoided the repeated sufferings that we now see. Turkana is just one example. As we know too well, there is a terrible drought and famine in Eastern Africa this year, including in particular Somalia and the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia is suffering, too, but having learnt from the enormous tragedy in 1982, they have managed to put in place a good early warning and response system so that the drought does not lead to famine. They manage to curtail most of the starvation and the worst suffering of people. Not so in Somalia, a country without a functioning government. The United Nations and the international community, including the Norwegians who had such good intentions in Turkana, seem all to have been slumbering in the comfort of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, with the worlds best climate. They fly up to Somalia, they may even land and stop over for a few hours in some places, and they may sometimes stay overnight in Dadaab Refugee Camp, the worlds largest, on the Kenya side of the Somalia border, with close to half a million refugees. Yes, it is a bit better there than in the desert, but it is similar to Turkana town, nobody can escape and there is no future there. Is this the best the United Nations and the rest of the international community can do in 2011? Tomorrow, August 19, we are marking the World Humanitarian Day. Sadly, there is little to celebrate when we have a situation like that of Kenya and Somalia right under the tip of the donors nose. We also realise that it is not the UN - and the Norwegians - who can save the starving people. It is the countries own governments, like the ones in Ethiopia that over the years have put in place systems to avoid the most severe effects of drought. Everybody knows that the drought will reoccur, so better be prepared. The same in Pakistan, with natural disasters, earthquakes and floods, it is the federal, provincial and, indeed, the local governments that must be empowered to take charge. The UN and the foreigners will at best help and bring in some funds and expertise. In the long run, they should get out of the way, and let the locals do the job, with the affected and suffering people themselves. nThe writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist based in Islamabad. He has served as United Nations Specialist in the United States, as well as various countries in Africa and Asia. He has also spent a decade dealing with the Afghan refugee crisis and university education in Pakistan. Email: atlehetland@yahoo.com