News / Africa

Building Resilience Key to Restoring Sahel Food Security

Cattle decompose under the Saharan sun outside the town of Ayoun el Atrous in Mauritania, May 20, 2012.Cattle decompose under the Saharan sun outside the town of Ayoun el Atrous in Mauritania, May 20, 2012.
x
Cattle decompose under the Saharan sun outside the town of Ayoun el Atrous in Mauritania, May 20, 2012.
Cattle decompose under the Saharan sun outside the town of Ayoun el Atrous in Mauritania, May 20, 2012.
Jennifer Lazuta
Severe food shortages have hit 18 million people across nine countries this year in Africa's Sahel region, following unpredictable and insufficient rains. The region bordering the Sahara Desert has had three severe food crises in four years, and international aid agencies say it is time to break the cycle of food insecurity in the Sahel.

As this year's emergency winds down, the question on aid workers' minds is, "How can the Sahel break from its recurring cycle of food crises?"

U.N. Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel, David Gressly, said now is the time to end chronic food insecurity.

“If we do not seize the opportunity in 2013, there is a good chance that this whole issue will be forgotten until the next drought and we will be asking ourselves the same set of questions. So we need to take this opportunity in 2013,” Gressly said.

Survival mode creates vulnerabilities

During a crisis, Gressly said hungry families are forced to eat one or two meals a day, take their children out of school, sell off livestock and go into debt. These coping mechanisms make them more vulnerable to future crises.

That is what has happened in the Sahel. Many of the affected families this year had not yet recovered from previous crises.

Aid agencies sent in food and emergency assistance. They handed out drought-resistant seeds and improved fertilizers, supplied medicine for livestock, and worked to improve irrigation and grain storage facilities.

Gressly said these measures dealt with the short-term needs, but the work should not stop when the crisis abates.

“And I think now there is an understanding that a very targeted program looking at these 18 million people affected this year, working with them to find ways so they do not have to make the kinds of decisions to survive in a crisis of a drought, for example, that compromises their long-term future,” he said.

Creating awareness

Aid agencies say they are working to build the "resilience" of the most vulnerable communities, but more needs to be done.

Gressly said this means reducing chronic child malnutrition, improving irrigation and drainage systems, diversifying food sources, finding better ways to preserve food stocks, and addressing potentially harmful cultural practices.

“One example of that is the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding. There is a practice in many communities across the Sahel to provide water to young infants under the age of six months because of the heat," he said. "But unfortunately the same water that is given, in addition to breast milk, is often contaminated and makes the children sick. It starts a cycle, a downward spiral really, towards severe malnutrition.  So simply by changing that behavior is a good way to prevent.”

Gressly said in Chad, aid agencies have been constructing dams to store water during rainy season that can later be used for irrigation.

The regional food security advocacy coordinator for British aid group Oxfam, Al Hassan Cisse, said better grain storage and programs like universal health insurance are other keys to resilience.

“Building the resilience of poor people means investing in food reserves because one of the aggregating factors of food crisis over the past year is the high food price," said Cisse. "Having food reserves and having social protection that target poor people and combining those two measures will help people build their resilience and be able to address future food crises.”

Cost-efficient measures crucial

Aid agencies also say that prevention is cheaper than treatment.

According to one recent estimate by U.N. agencies and NGO's, it costs just one dollar to keep a child from slipping into malnutrition, whereas it costs $80 to treat that child once malnutrition has set in.

Experts say there is a growing political will to respond quickly to emergencies, but also to address their underlying causes.

Countries like Niger were quick to react to this year's food crisis and call for international assistance.

But Senegalese Association for the Promotion of Grassroots Development representative Saliou Sarr said communities must also be involved in finding solutions.

He said it is often government officials and intellectuals, not those at the crisis site, who are diagnosing the problems. Sarr said it is fundamental that local residents be included at the beginning, during, and after a crisis. He said governments must work with farmers and aid agencies to modernize farming equipment and methods to reverse environmental degradation and improve harvests.

You May Like

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Gerald
November 20, 2012 10:02 PM
David Gressly the problems facing agriculture are in the main, man made. Please just take a look at Zimbabwe and the farm seizures resulting in farmers being forcing removed, some losing their lives and many farm employees becoming unemployed with
no future. The UN stood by as did other Governments and just looked on, as people were dispossessed and rendered destitute.

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 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