April marks the height of the dry season in the Sahel region of Africa, an arid belt that runs across the continent at the southern edge of the Sahara desert. For the first time in several years we do not have to sound the alarm about a looming food security crisis in two of the countries where we work – Niger and Chad – or in neighboring countries. Last year much of the the Sahel faced a third severe food crisis in less than a decade. The lethal combination of drought, poor harvest, and increased food prices pushed over 18.7 million people into a state of extreme hunger. Children particularly suffered, with an estimated one million diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition.
We must remain vigilant, but it’s important for us to take the opportunity to put measures in place to reduce the risk of crisis in future dry seasons. Droughts, floods and resulting crop failure are cyclical, and the next potential crisis may be just months away.
A look back at our 2012 response, including the recently captured story of Zara Adam, can be a partial roadmap to preparedness and resilience.
With over ten million people affected by the food crisis living in Niger and Chad, Concern launched an early emergency response in these two countries to provide vital needs such as food, water, health care, and livelihoods support.
Thanks to your support, we reached more than 415,000 of the most vulnerable people during the Sahel Food Crisis.
Concern’s Response in Niger
Concern has been in Niger since 2003, working in Tahoua district, which was one of the crisis’ worst-affected areas.
Health and Nutrition: Screened 100,600 and treated 20,800 children for severe and moderate malnutrition
Cash Transfers: Provided cash transfers to 6,350 people living in Tahoua district, allowing them to purchase food for their families
Livelihoods: Implemented cash-for-work programs for 3,000 poor families affected by increased food prices
Food Security: Distributed seeds and tools to 10,500 farmers, and rehabilitated land for 3,000 families to prepare them for the next harvest
Concern’s Response in Chad
Working in Chad since 2007, Concern’s emergency response program directly reached people living in the Dar Sila region by providing food and cash transfers to help the poorest get through the hardest months.
Food: Distributed food to 64,000 people and implemented a blanket feeding program to prevent malnutrition for 13,000 children and breastfeeding mothers
Cash Transfers: Provided cash transfers to 3,700 poor households to purchase livestock and cereal
Livelihoods: Launched two vaccination campaigns to keep 25,000 livestock animals alive for 1,300 nomadic and semi-nomadic households
Agriculture: Supplied cereal and garden seeds and tools to nearly 4,600 households to prevent them from depleting their supplies
Strengthening Communities in Chad
Barely seated in the sand, Zara Adam immediately said: “I don’t want to talk about my background. I want to talk about the cash transfer!” Zara, 30 and mother of eight, is a dynamic woman. She has to bring a bucket of groundnuts to her sister who is waiting at the marketplace and has no time to lose. She and her family live in the Dar Sila region of eastern Chad, an area badly affected by the Sahel food crisis. In her village of Wandalou, Monday is market day. Here and there, traces of better times are evident in the market stalls, including a few cucumbers, hot peppers, guavas, grilled meat, and smoked fish. But for the most part, there is only millet, the country’s staple grain, and other basics like salt, sugar, oil, onions, and garlic.
It was a difficult year for communities who rely on growing crops and raising animals for their survival. The last harvest only provided Zara and her family with enough grain to last them a month. Many households suffered the same problem. They ran out of grain many months away from the next harvest. This period, known as the “hunger gap” lasted up to ten months for many families in this region.
To survive, Zara and her husband worked as day laborers whenever they could, earning about $3 per day. “It was good money,” she said, “but there was not enough work for all of us.” When options dwindled, she decided to sell a goat or two to buy food for the following few weeks. But she didn’t own many goats, and like many other households in the region, she thought that she would soon have to resort to selling her crops prior to harvest and at a low price.
In order to protect families’ harvests and prevent them from selling the few assets that they have to survive, Concern launched a cash transfer program that provided Zara and people like her with $60 each so they can purchase everything they need to survive the hunger gap. In total, we provided 3,700 households with cash-transfer payments.
With the money she received, Zara was able to purchase larger-than-usual amounts of rice, oil, sugar, and salt both to consume and sell for a profit. “The money we received really improved our living conditions,” said Zara “I used the money to buy food I was then able to sell at the market.”
The program helped reduce the impact of hunger on the population of Dar Sila, but increasingly erratic weather across the Sahel caused rains to last two months longer than usual, flooding several parts of the country and effectively damaging some of the crops. This means that Zara and thousands like her will likely face food shortages in the future. Concern will continue to work on improving access to food, health, and nutrition for the most vulnerable. Our focus, along with helping people withstand shocks in the short-term, is to strengthen communities in the long-term.