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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid