News / Africa

UN: New Strategies Needed to Cope With Crises in Sahel

FILE - Boys walk on desert sands in the town of Moghtar-Lajjar in west Africa's Sahel region, where the U.N. says civil unrest and drought conditions have put tens of millions of people at risk of food insecurity.
FILE - Boys walk on desert sands in the town of Moghtar-Lajjar in west Africa's Sahel region, where the U.N. says civil unrest and drought conditions have put tens of millions of people at risk of food insecurity.
Lisa Schlein
The United Nations says it is working on an integrated strategy to deal with the recurring crises in Africa's Sahel region.  The U.N. says new approaches are needed to make vulnerable people in the nine Sahelian countries able to cope with the humanitarian emergencies that keep them in poverty and dependent on the international community for aid. 

In an unusual maneuver, the U.N. Security Council has asked the world body to draw up a plan to stop the Sahel lurching from one crisis to another.  The council says it wants the U.N. to produce an integrated plan that looks at the humanitarian, political, security and developmental issues that are part of the recurring crises to hit the region. 
 
Robert Piper, U.N. assistant secretary-general and regional humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel, says, to get this project underway, the U.N. secretary-general, along with the president of the World Bank and senior officials from the African Union and other organizations, will visit the region next month.  The aim, he says, is to bring the different pieces of this effort together.
 
Piper says tens of millions of people in the Sahel suffer from erratic rainfall and poor harvests.  He says it is becoming increasingly more difficult and certainly unproductive for business to continue as usual.
 
“The chronic needs across the region sadly are expected to continue to a certain extent.  We cannot yet reverse these figures overnight.  What we are seeing is very vulnerable households trying to recover from last year’s drought, which came only two years after the previous one.  So, these crises are getting closer and closer together, giving families less and less time to try and recover before the next one comes,” says Piper.
 
Last year was a very dramatic year in terms of food crisis.  The Sahel was plagued by an historic drought, which created serious food shortages for some 18 million people.  This year, the Sahel has enjoyed better rainfall and better harvests.  Despite this, Piper says 11 million people continue to be food insecure. 
 
Negative coping mechanisms

To deal with this situation, Piper says families tend to use, what he calls, negative coping mechanisms.
 
“A decision that works for the next few weeks or few months.  They take a daughter out of school.  They will sell an asset.  They will eat livestock that was important for the next 12 months.  They will make that decision for the short term… and it is a logical decision for the short term, but it has very negative consequences in the medium-to-long term for the household in terms of getting back on their feet,” says Piper.
 
Sahel humanitarian coordinator Piper says the issues driving these problems are structural.  They involve problems to do with agriculture, population and family planning, governance, and ways of sharing a country’s mineral wealth.
 
He says these structural problems require a sustained, long-term engagement.  He adds that the best ways of solving these issues is for governments in the region to work together.

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