Break the Cycle of Hunger in the Sahel

July 12, 2012

Africare was born in the Sahel in 1970 in response to the devastating famine of the late 1960s. Since then, we have experienced some great successes and also some humbling failures.

On balance, the sad fact is that the Sahel is even less food-secure today than when we first began over 40 years ago and is still ill prepared to meet the repeated threat of famine. Governments need to step up, NGOs need to work smarter, and greater donor support is needed if the Sahel is to win the war against chronic food insecurity and starvation: and fortunately, some have begun to. 

For more than four decades, Africare has worked throughout the Sahel to go beyond responding to the emergencies caused by drought to building resilience.  We have initiated projects that have had little impact, without leaving footprints. But we have also had some important successes that include tackling river blindness with the support of Merck and U.S. Department of Agriculture, introducing water management technologies in the 1970s that are still in operation, award-winning climate-smart agriculture projects and women’s empowerment projects in countries that are among the worst places on earth for women to be born.

Today the Sahel is hard-hit by the third big food crisis in just 7 years. Almost 20 million people are short of food and more than one million children under the age of five are at risk of dying. The current crisis comes on the heels of a poor harvest last year, drought and high food prices compounded by the crisis in Mali.  Underlying the crisis is rapid population growth, stagnant agricultural productivity, climate change, environmental degradation and continued policy failures of governments.

The good news is that some governments are stepping up to the challenge. For example, Niger has very recently begun implementing a homegrown strategy of “Nigeriens feeding Nigeriens.” It takes a comprehensive and integrated approach of improving the availability of food and access to food, providing better nutrition and strengthening early warning systems of disaster preparedness. Additionally, Nigeriens feeding Nigeriens provides strong leadership from the top and provides the support and space for communities to become more resilient.

Last month the UN asked the west to find $1.6 billion to help keep starvation in the Sahel at bay.  But just as important as more the need for more money is the need to ensure that it is used wisely. Outside help has to build on, and complement, strong government leadership that is free of the tax of corruption and misuse. And, it has to be forcefully put behind through integrated national-level and community-based, proven approaches to improve resilience.

At Africare, we are playing our part by building on the lessons of more than four decades of experience in the Sahel. With the support of the U.S. government and the private sector, we are providing fast and flexible responses in times of crisis for emergency relief that builds a bridge to greater food security in communities.

Africare is strengthening community-based early warning systems and we are providing cash for work to improve community-based infrastructures and cash transfers programs to improve the nutrition and livelihoods of the poorest in the Sahel. Africare is focused on vulnerable women – including young widows with dependent teenage male children – whose vulnerability can induce them to support insurgent activities out of desperation. 

We also are targeting the youth with income generating activities to provide incentives for unemployed youth and ex-combatants to put down the guns.

In this fight to break the cycle of hunger in the Sahel, Africare needs your continued support and help to make sure that the needs of our African brothers and sisters are met so that when famine strikes, no stomach goes unfilled.

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