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

    Greenpeace Leak: US-EU Trade Deal Would Favor Corporations

    Activist group leaks classified documents to 'shine a light' on talks that could create the world's largest bilateral trade and investment pact

    Video Ethiopia's Drought Takes Toll on Children

    East African country’s crops failed in 2015, creating food shortages for 10 million – including 6 million children whose development may be compromised

    What Your First Name Reveals About Who You Vote For

    People named Chad are more likely to be Republicans and Jonathans are usually Democrats

    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.

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora