Sahel Food Crisis: FAQs

Commonly Asked Questions About the Sahel Food Crisis

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Chronic crisis?

"The world needs to accept that many parts of Niger and the Sahel are now in a state of chronic crisis," explained Barbara Jackson, Humanitarian Director, CARE International, in 2012.

She continued, "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."

Early into the crisis, families exhausted their food supplies and sold their animals and household items to buy food. Without animals like goats and cows to provide milk and cheese, families lost a vital source of nutrition that put children at risk of malnutrition and stunting, and left families without a source of income.

To make things worse, families 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.

The crisis in the Sahel will be hard to recover from - with the risk of it getting worse or another crisis hitting at any moment.

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.

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2012 Brendan Bannon/CARE