News / Africa

Aid Agencies Call for Different Way to Fight Sahel Hunger

Boys walk on desert sands in the town of Moghtar-Lajjar in west Africa's Sahel region, where the United Nations says civil unrest and a drought have put 18 million people in food insecurity, May 25 2012.Boys walk on desert sands in the town of Moghtar-Lajjar in west Africa's Sahel region, where the United Nations says civil unrest and a drought have put 18 million people in food insecurity, May 25 2012.
x
Boys walk on desert sands in the town of Moghtar-Lajjar in west Africa's Sahel region, where the United Nations says civil unrest and a drought have put 18 million people in food insecurity, May 25 2012.
Boys walk on desert sands in the town of Moghtar-Lajjar in west Africa's Sahel region, where the United Nations says civil unrest and a drought have put 18 million people in food insecurity, May 25 2012.
Anne Look
DAKAR, Senegal — Aid agencies are calling for a new approach to tackling hunger in Africa's Sahel region, which is struggling through its third severe food crisis in a decade. A new report by World Vision and Save the Children looks at alarming rates of chronic child malnutrition for clues on how to break the cycle of food emergencies in the region.

2011 saw a record harvest in Niger. However, nearly as many malnourished children were admitted to treatment centers that year as in 2010, the year of a severe drought and devastating food shortages throughout the Sahel. Why?

The answer to that question, according to a new study by World Vision and Save the Children, holds the key to what is driving yet another food crisis in the Sahel.

Better access to food is essential

Child malnutrition, the study says, does not necessarily mean there is not enough food. It means people can not access it. They can't afford it.

"The issue of food, nutrition and people not having enough to eat, it's been looked at mainly from the supply side, if you look at the science of economics," said Paul Sitnam, World Vision's Regional Humanitarian Emergency Affairs Director. "But now, what we're trying to say is let's look at it from the demand side, the access side," said Sitnam. 'Even when there is no food production, there is also food there because of trade and other stores - people have stored up some food. It's just that people who are so poor, and even with subsidies sometimes, they can't access the food that's available in the market."

The study is part of a gradual shift in the humanitarian approach to hunger in the Sahel that is upending the traditional logic that increasing agricultural production will ultimately reduce food prices, head off food shortages and improve nutrition in the long term.

The study says this "supply-driven" approach is not helping the poorest 25 percent of small-scale farmers in the Sahel.

Providing a lifeline to struggling families

Instead, World Vision and Save the Children say preventing future crises hinges on increasing families' "resilience" to shocks. A shock could be anything from locusts, a rapid doubling in grain prices or the drought that led to this year's poor harvests.

The study says reducing chronic child malnutrition and promoting small-scale agriculture are essential to helping families weather the inevitable storms.

The current food crisis in the Sahel threatens 18 million people, many of whom have not yet recovered from losing their livestock or their livelihoods during the last food crisis in 2010.

This "resilience deficit," as the study calls it, is what Sitnam says is driving the current, and potentially future, disasters.

"They're poor already and they're getting poorer. Why? Because they are getting hit by a crisis; they start picking themselves up slowly and another crisis hits them," he said. "Again they go down, they try to get up, another crisis hits them. So it's continual. They don't have enough time to catch their breath and to build up their assets so they can resist the next shock. The thrust of what we're saying is let's give them assets.  Let's give them the capacity to access whatever food there is so they can resist better these shocks which will come again."

New approaches offered

Humanitarian agencies increasingly have explored "cash for work" and "cash distribution" strategies in the Sahel in recent years.

Sitnam said governments and aid agencies reacted quickly to this year's crisis and hopefully have averted a "worst-case scenario." The situation on the ground, though, remains difficult.

"There are people in Mali and Niger who are reduced from two to one meal a day, Sitham said. "They are sending their children to the cities to look for work or live with relatives. They are taking their kids out of school. They are foraging for food that may not be the best for them. They're trying to go out and earn money to buy whatever food there is on the market. As I've said, there is a big access problem."

The study says short-term emergency food assistance, while important during an acute crisis, cannot address underlying vulnerability and the high rates of malnutrition among hundreds of thousands of children in the Sahel during non-crisis years.

You May Like

Amnesty: EU Failing Migrants, Refugees

Rights group says migrants, refugees subject to detention, extortion, beatings More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs