Chad / Food Security / Mali / Niger / West Africa

Food crisis in the Sahel: unlearned lessons?

Village women and livestock in Niger

Women and livestock in a village in Niger (ILRI / Mann)

What happens when the last of last year’s grain harvest runs out and the last animal is sold to buy emergency grain?

‘A catastrophe is about to unfold for millions of the world’s poorest people. It happened five years ago, and this time the international aid agencies were in place when the early warning lights started flashing. But it is nonetheless happening all over again. More than 10 million people in the eastern Sahel, in some of the world’s poorest nations such as Niger, Chad and Mali, have exhausted their food supply and all their assets two or three months before the next harvest. Thousands of animals have died, forcing pastoralists to leave their villages. In large parts of Niger and Chad, people are eating wild berries and leaves, while fields of stunted millet stand in the baking heat.

‘The World Food Programme (WFP), which had planned to provide for 2.3 million people in Niger alone between March and October, has had to dramatically revise that figure to 7.9 million. It takes between two and three months for food procured internationally to arrive, but with the rainy season under way in a vast landlocked country like Niger, it may well take longer. That leaves flying the food in or buying it locally. There is food in the local markets, but the prices are high. However, cash- and voucher-based programmes are in their infancy and represent only a fraction of the aid effort. The WFP is buying 5,000 tonnes of grain from the military government in Niger, but the junta wants to keep the bulk of its reserves of grain back to distribute at subsidised prices. It is panic stations, and once again aid workers are finding that there is no easy response.

‘. . . In 2005 Jan Egeland, then UN head of humanitarian relief, said it took graphic images of dying children for the world to finally wake up to a famine affecting 2.5 million. While aid agencies have learned what to do, it appears that major donors and countries are still stuck in the same mindset. How little has changed.’

More . . . (Guardian, Food crisis in the Sahel: unlearned lessons, 3 August 2010)

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