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Crisis watch: responding to the Sahel food crisis

August 22, 2012
Photo by Tagaza Djibo

For over eight months, the people of Niger, Chad, and other neighboring countries in the Sahel region of West Africa have been drifting further and further into a state of extreme hunger, and are now teetering on the edge of a potentially massive humanitarian disaster. The United Nations estimates that nearly 18.7 million people are currently affected by a severe food crisis.

For over eight months, the people of Niger, Chad, and other neighboring countries in the Sahel region of West Africa have been drifting further and further into a state of extreme hunger, and are now teetering on the edge of a potentially massive humanitarian disaster.  The United Nations estimates that nearly 18.7 million people are currently affected by a severe food crisis – only two years after a similar food crisis occurred in 2010 – caused by a combination of erratic rainfall, pest and locust plagues on harvests, a shortage of crop production, high grain prices, environmental degradation, regional insecurity, and chronic poverty.

Concern and other agencies have been sounding the alarm for months, calling on donor governments to respond quickly to the immediate needs of those facing hunger on an epic scale. At the same time, prevention activities must be implemented immediately to ensure more families do not go hungry.  The most vital needs are food, water, shelter and non-food items, health care, and livelihoods support for affected agricultural and pastoralist communities. Concern Worldwide is a member of the Sahel Working Group, along with other major NGOs operating in the Sahel. Throughout 2012, Concern aims to reach a total of 233,414 people in Niger and Chad through its emergency response.

Concern’s work in Niger

Concern has been in Niger since 2003, working in Tahoua district, which is one of the crisis’ worst-affected areas. Since December 2011, Concern has reached a total of 71,065 people through monthly cash transfers , cash-for-work, and nutrition programs. By the end of 2012, Concern plans to reach a total of 166,202 of those most affected by the crisis.

Concern’s work in Chad

Working in Chad since 2007, Concern’s emergency response program plans to directly reach 67,212 people in Dar Sila region by providing food and cash transfers to help the poorest get through the next few months, and helping farmers plant quality seeds for a better harvest in November.

Concern also aims to reach an additional 34,700 people by partnering with Chad’s Ministry of Health and the World Food Program to run mobile health clinics, provide food-for-work programs, supplementary feeding programs for mothers and children, and cash transfers.

Concern’s work in Action: An Interview with Adiya Hatou, of  Mogheur village, Tahoua district, Niger

Adiya Hatou

30-year-old Adiya Hatou is taking part in a cash-transfer program organized by Concern in the village of Mogheur, Niger. Photo: Jennifer O’Gorman

Adiya Hatou is part of Concern’s cash transfer program, receiving money over the past three months, enabling her to buy food for her family.

“Because the harvest was so bad, we only ate maybe once a week. In a good year, we would harvest 15 bags of millet, but this year, we only managed to harvest two. The quality of the millet wasn’t good either because there were very little rains and the land was infested by birds and crickets. It is expensive to buy seed to plant for next season…some of the villages had seed in stock but when they ran out of food to eat they started eating their seeds just to have something to put in their mouths.

“There is no food in the market stalls and no yield of beans this year. Occasionally we would go to the bush and try and gather firewood and sell it, but you can’t rely on this type of work. We have sold all our cattle to buy cassava since it is cheaper than millet.

“Concern has helped over 300 people in my village and the difference this help has made is impossible to measure. My husband and sons would have left the village to search for work and may have ended up in the streets of Tahoua begging for money, but because of Concern’s cash transfer program, my family has been able to stay together. The money I have received means that I can buy food and that we can eat everyday now. Concern has helped our community because we are able to keep money and food within the village, keeping families together.  This makes me smile and Thank God.”

To learn more about how  mobile cash transfer programs are working in Niger, read this Huffington Post article by Concern’s Connell Foley.