The Sahel region of Africa is a hot, dry band of land which starts in Senegal on the west coast and reaches as far as Chad, nearly 4,000 km to the east. It was hit by severe drought as recently as 2010 and many of the region’s people were still struggling to get back on their feet when the current drought struck. Food prices are high across the region, making access to food even more difficult for poor families. Grain production is below the five-year average in Mauritania, Chad, Niger and Burkina Faso. The situation has been exacerbated a fall in remittances and conflict in Mali, which has displaced over 300,000 people.
WFP and its partners are bringing food assistance to more than 10 million people in eight countries in the Sahel region of West Africa. Drought in the region has brought hunger to millions of people for the third time in seven years. Meanwhile, conflict in Mali has forced around 340,000 people to flee their homes, adding to the hunger crisis both in Mali and neighbouring countries.
Why are people going hungry in the Sahel?
The rains only come once per year in the African Sahel and last year, they were patchy and late. That’s a recipe for disaster in a part of the world where most people live on what they can grow. When the rains don’t come on time, harvests fail, animals die and people start going hungry.
Which countries have been hit by the drought?
The drought is affecting a huge swathe of territory that covers parts of Chad, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Gambia, Cameroon and northern Nigeria.
In addition to drought, what other factors have led to a food crisis in the Sahel?
Bad harvests this year have driven up the price of food at a time of year when it’s usually more affordable. High fuel costs and pest infestations haven’t helped. Conflict in northern Mali has been a major factor, forcing 320,000 peeple to flee their homes and seek refuge elsewhere in Mali, or in neighbouring countries. Either the way, this puts strain on communities already struggling to find enough food.
How do small farmers survive when they don’t grow enough food?
During hard times, families will often sell land or animals in order to buy food. That’s called a “negative coping strategy” because it leaves them poorer and more likely to go hungry in the long-term. When they run out of things to sell, families have little choice but to move to the cities or abroad in search of work.
Are droughts common in the Sahel?
Yes and they’re becoming even more common with climate change. This is the third drought to hit the Sahel in less than a decade. Particularly in Niger, many families haven’t yet fully recovered from the last drought in 2010 and have even less to fall back on now than they did then.
How is the situation in the Sahel this year different from droughts in the past?
Whereas droughts in 2005 and 2010 were felt most in Niger and parts of Chad, the food crisis this year is unfolding across the entire region, from Chad in the east all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. In addition, the conflict in Mali added a whole new layer of complexity. Food prices in the region are also much higher than they were in 2010.
If this crisis is different, how is WFP responding differently?
In countries like Niger where food markets are holding up, WFP is providing hungry people with vouchers and cash that they can use to buy food at local markets. This helps the local economy and gives people a greater variety of food to choose from. WFP will also be buying much of the food it distributes from countries near to the Sahel, to cut down on the amount of time it takes to get to the people who need it.
How can we prevent droughts in the Sahel from causing food crises in the future?
The Sahel is an arid place prone to frequent droughts and yet most of the people who live there depend on rain-fed agriculture. Teaching people how to harvest rainwater in ponds and grow drought-resistant crops can help them to get through bouts of dry weather. Another way to stave off hunger are village granaries where families can borrow grain during the lean season and then “repay” it at the next harvest.
More info: http://www.wfp.org/crisis/sahel