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

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid