Sahel Hunger Crisis
Food Crisis in the Sahel Region of West Africa
Drought, erratic rains, failed crops, soaring food prices and regional instabilities have left more than 11.3 million people at risk of starvation in the Sahel region.
1.5 Million children are at risk for acute malnutrition
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December 2013 Update
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 18.7 million people in the Sahel region faced an extreme food crisis in 2012. The worst of the crisis was averted, but millions of people in the region are still at risk today and need immediate assistance. An estimated 11.3 million people are suffering from food insecurity, with 1.5 of them being children younger than 5.
The ongoing food crisis in the Sahel region has been complicated by violence in Mali, which in turn has sent refugees fleeing the conflict into neighboring countries. More than 1 million people have fled from their homes in the Sahel and are now refugees or displaced within their own countries.
Compounding existing food insecurity, the recent combination of erratic rains, failed crops, soaring food prices and regional instability has left millions of people hungry. The reoccurrence of this food crisis has eroded the region's resilience and coping abilities and has devastated residents of the Sahel region who already suffered from chronic poverty before. Many never recovered from the 2012 food crisis and are unable to withstand another blow to their livelihoods.
The situation is most dire and continues to deteriorate in Mali due to conflict. In Mali alone, estimates report that about 3.5 million people are affected by food insecurity, including 660,000 children under 5. Neighboring countries such as Niger and Chad are now faced with an influx of refugees from Mali and little resources to support them. In addition to food insecurity, diseases such as cholera and measles remain a constant risk. Floods and locust infestations continue to hinder successful food production.
The lean season is coming to an end as food crop harvests are ongoing in the Sahel. The poorest households begin to supply their exhausted food stocks but are still facing difficulties accessing adequate food on markets. CARE is continuing to respond in Chad, Mali and Niger with both immediate relief and long-term solutions.
"The world needs to accept that many parts of Niger and the Sahel are now in a state of chronic crisis," says Jackson. "Many families have still not yet recovered from the food crisis of 2010. While families in critical need today need emergency assistance, we also need to find long-term solutions to help people survive in an environment that is becoming more difficult to live in because of a changing climate. Rains are shorter and less frequent; pasture land is turning into desert. This is changing the way of life for the people in this region, and we need to support them to adapt and increase their resilience."
Some families have already exhausted their food supplies and are selling their animals and household items to buy food. Without animals like goats and cows to provide milk and cheese, families lose a vital source of nutrition, putting children at risk of malnutrition and stunting, and leaving families without a source of income.
To make things worse, many families have lost a crucial survival option: finding work in neighboring countries. Many Nigeriens who went to Côte d'Ivoire, Libya and Nigeria to find work have come home early because of instability or conflict. Many workers came home with nothing; some even had to borrow money in order to return home, plunging their families further into debt or crisis.
Why are women and girls hit hardest?
Food crises have severe effects on families and for the most part it is women and girls who take the hit. In certain regions, food crises increase the rate of divorces (e.g. in Maradi region, Niger, half of women divorce because of food insecurity); the head of family sees it as a way of having fewer mouths to feed. In other cases, food insecurity might contribute to early marriages; families give away their daughters (earlier) so they don't have to feed them. Husbands and young men leave to find work abroad, leaving mothers to lead the family on their own. In harvest time, some husbands lock up the grain storage and ask their wives to make do for several months. Food insecurity forces many families to take their children out of school and help at home or find work; they soon become parents; they have children who don't attend school either, and the cycle perpetuates.
What is the Sahel and where is it located?
The Sahel is a bio-geographic transition zone between the Sahara desert in the north and the Sudanese savannas in the south. Countries affected by the food crisis include Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal.
CARE established the Sahel Food Crisis Response Fund to provide immediate relief and longer-term rehabilitation support to families and communities affected by the crisis. Support to this fund has helped CARE position and deploy needed supplies and staff; make funds available to emergency-affected communities for immediate assistance; strengthen our ability to respond to future emergencies; and provide overall program oversight to ensure the highest-quality response.
Over the last year, CARE has conducted our emergency response operations in Chad, Mali and Niger, reaching people in these countries with immediate life-saving assistance and long-term programs that address resilience among the most vulnerable people in the face of recurring crises by:
- Providing cash-for-work to help families buy food and protect their assets;
- Training nurses on prevention and management of malnutrition;
- Improving water and sanitation and promoting hygiene;
- Strengthening community cereal banks so families can buy food at reasonable prices, stocking animal feed banks and reinforcing community-based early warning systems;
- Working with women's savings and loans groups to develop alternative sources of food such as community vegetable gardens and to increase community resilience; and
- Helping people from Mali who have fled across the border into Niger with essential household items and hygiene supplies.
"CARE is also putting in place long-term solutions so people in the Sahel region are less vulnerable to recurring crises," explains Barbara Jackson.
CARE has worked in Chad, Mali, and Niger for almost 40 years, where we have successfully created and promoted women-led saving groups and cereal banks. In parallel to the emergency response, CARE is continuing our long-term development projects, which make people better equipped to handle future crises on their own.
How CARE works in emergencies
RESPONDING TODAY, PREPARING FOR TOMORROW
In 2011 alone, CARE reached 12 million people affected by natural disasters, conflict situations and other crises.