Sahel Food Crisis Update

For a third time this decade, the Sahel region of West Africa is suffering from a food crisis. The lethal combination of drought, poor harvest and increased food prices is affecting over 18 million people across Niger, Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso and Mauritania and putting more than one million children under five years old at risk of severe acute malnutrition.

A hunger crisis has once again gripped Niger, as well as neighboring Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad. Concern's communications team recently traveled to Niger and brought back this harrowing report

The greatest tragedy in the Sahel is that hunger crises are nothing new. Massive food shortages rocked Niger in 2005, causing significant loss of life among children under five, and drought hit the region again in 2008 and 2009. The tell-tale signs of this impending crisis have been around for months but little has been said or done about to help this current situation where there is not enough food and whatever is available is often too expensive for the poorest to afford.

“The village is suffering; all the grain stores are empty. A few people got a sack or two of grain from their harvest, no more. We do what we can,” says Radia, “the rest is in God’s hands.”

These are the heart rending words of Radia Oumar, a mother who has to provide for her whole family in Chad. She is not alone.  She is one of 3.6 million in Chad facing similar conditions. 

Since their harvests failed, many families like Radia’s must scrape together enough money to buy food each day, living day to day, hand to mouth. The cost of grain has doubled, and the markets are almost empty. To make ends meet, they are resorting to foods only eaten in times of famine. Radia’s bowl of sorghum, the main staple, is mixed with a brown powder known as krebs—which is ground from the seeds of wild plants. “Do you know what this is? Usually krebs is only for goats, now we add it to the sorghum,” says Radia. “These are the signs of famine.” Radia and other poor families sometimes dig up giant anthills to get at the grain stores buried in the sand. The grain is sandy and hard to digest, but better than nothing.

To break this cycle and save lives today, Concern has launched early response programs in Chad and Niger which include interventions that decrease the vulnerability of those who are most affected, through emergency cash transfers via mobile phones, cash for work programs and treatment for those who are already severely malnourished.

The life-saving impact of these activities is best told through people like Mrs. Halilou, a 44-year-old mother of seven from the village of Abala Sani, Niger. Her nine-month-old daughter was suffering from severe acute malnutrition when our team found her and referred them to a health center for treatment. “I thought she wouldn’t survive because she was so weak,” Mrs. Halilou says. “I do not know how to thank Concern for having saved my child at a moment when I had lost all hope for her survival.”

Concern is closely monitoring the situation and our teams are working around the clock in Niger and Chad to increase communities’ ability to cope through the worse effects of this crisis.