Earlier this week, two of the world's most prominent relief agencies made a dramatic claim. Thousands of people died needlessly and millions of dollars were wasted in last year's famine in East Africa because aid agencies and governments did not act quickly enough.
Oxfam and Save the Children were honest enough to admit their own failure to respond in a humanitarian disaster that may have killed 100,000 people, mostly in Somalia.
"By the time the world sees people starving on TV, it's too late," said Caroline Miles, the president of Save the Children. Even as she spoke, there were warnings of another impending hunger crisis, this time in West Africa. Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad are now at risk.
I have worked in international aid and development for many years - and I have no illusions about how incredibly complex, challenging and frustrating it can be at times. Admitting when we have made mistakes or not performed well enough is always difficult - especially if it means lives could have been saved. It is something that will always play heavily on the conscience of all aid workers.
I worked for Oxfam for a number of years and believe this report, which says there were failings by both governments and aid agencies, is a bold and admirable thing to do. We welcome such transparency and acknowledge that the failings are something for which we all bear responsibility.
There had been many warnings about the situation for many months, but for various reasons - political sensitivity, poor communication, even apathy - the response was simply too late for many.
The international community needs to heed these warnings, respond rapidly and to continually learn from our experience if we are to meet the increasing impact of climate change and other factors upon the region and prevent many thousands of needless deaths.
What is interesting (and frustrating) about this crisis is that it was not particularly about lack of money or public lack of interest. My organisation, Plan International, raised more than US$20 million (Dh73.5m) in the first two months through active fund-raising and a publicity campaign. The generosity and engagement of the public shows that if informed properly, people are still incredibly compassionate even in times of global recession. We had hoped to raise that $20 million over six months but managed it in just over six weeks.
What it showed was that we need to work smarter with the information we have, and that governments need to be more open in working together to solve these problems.
Plan has already undertaken a thorough review of our continuing response in the region to see if we can do better in emergencies. In Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan we have reached more than 1. 1 million people, mostly children. These are countries that found themselves in serious difficulties because of a variety of long-term, persistent factors. The incidence and ferocity of food crises such as the one afflicting the Horn of Africa are increasing due to climate change, natural disasters and underlying problems such as the lack of access to land, deforestation, poor governance and unproductive agricultural practices.
Conflict, such as the drawn-out one in Somalia, cause huge knock-on effects in neighbouring countries, who themselves are struggling to deal with their own problems.
Things have been made worse in recent years by the high cost of food, which has made it increasingly unaffordable to the global poor. Often the issue is not about a lack of food but affordability and access.
This crisis was so widespread and severe that Plan found itself operating in entirely new areas in both Ethiopia and Kenya. In some cases it meant our workers making a shift from development to delivering emergency aid. It showed that we needed to be far more proactive in providing food assistance. So Plan is investing large resources on disaster risk reduction. This means strengthening the resilience of communities and their ability to withstand crises. We know these situations will sadly come again and we must find a way to lessen their impact.
Plan is already working on long-term drought risk reduction in Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan, helping communities to rehabilitate their water reserves. We are also linking short-term food supplies to long-term interventions, including supplementary feeding, health promotion and child protection.
Hunger and famine, unlike other natural disasters, are often cyclical and leave their mark on generations. To address this, long-term measures are crucial. Recurring crises can break up families, force people to flee their homes and push children out of school - sometimes into child labour or early marriage. All these put them at risk.
For this reason, Plan is also expanding its work in education in emergencies, ensuring that children continue to get schooling. In South Sudan this means providing meals in schools and helping to improve school attendance. In Kenya we are providing supplementary school feeding, encouraging children to come to school regularly and helping to improve their concentration in class.
Failing to help families, communities and countries break the cycle of drought and hunger risks losing another generation to the ravages of famine and all the upheaval and trauma it brings.
We have seen tremendous progress as a result of these changes. In Ethiopia, nearly 23,000 children under 5 years of age as well as pregnant and new mothers were admitted into programmes and received nutritional and medical support. It is incredibly rewarding to see those children and mothers taken off the "at risk" lists and discharged from centres.
Another 36,000 people have directly benefited from water treatment, distribution of soaps, jerrycans and other sanitation and hygiene facilities and education in 14 districts throughout the country where emergency response works are under way.
Most importantly, we have helped people get clean water supply from the existing sources - working smart to achieve sustainable change.
In Kenya, Plan has so far reached some 760,000 people, of which 571,000 are children. Our post-emergency programme there involves water improvement - much of it led by the communities themselves, reducing malnutrition in the process.
So, progress has and is being made. I hope that one day there will be no need for famine to be a word seen in the news. Until that time we will carry on finding solutions and learning from our mistakes in our quest to meet that most fundamental of human rights: enough to eat.
Gezahegn Kebede is the regional director for Plan International in Eastern and Southern Africa. Plan works in 50 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas to promote child rights and lift millions of children out of poverty. It is independent, with no religious, political or governmental affiliations.