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

Video On the Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime raids, many feel abandoned by outside world, VOA's Scott Bobb reports More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid