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News : Emergencies
The human cost - West Africa Food Crisis – 23 May 2012
Fears are growing of a humanitarian disaster across West Africa as millions of people face starvation. Extreme hunger is now a daily reality for many families surviving on just one or two meals a day, some of whom are so desperate that they are resorting to eating wild leaves. Countries affected are among the poorest in the world and include Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger, which have all declared states of emergency.
They’ve been left reeling after severe drought had a disastrous impact on harvests and livestock. Please give today to help us respond
The tragic human cost
The growing human cost of Niger’s hunger emergency can be seen in the dwindling frame of nine-month-old Karima. Over the last four months she has lost half her body weight, coinciding with the failed harvest in this southern Dosso region of the country. In recent weeks her condition has worsened and her mother, 25-year-old Dayaba, has brought Karima to Soukoukoutane health centre after a long journey by foot which began the previous day. ‘I feel weak and I have no breast milk for my baby which makes her cry,’ said Dayaba.
Karima is not the only child crying today. Accompanied by husband Jada, Dayaba and Karima take their place alongside more than a dozen other women with malnourished young children waiting to see medical staff.
They gather in the welcome shade provided by a neem tree – known locally as a miracle tree because of its medicinal properties. It’s a beacon of verdant foliage in a barren landscape scorched by drought, indeed it seems a miracle the tree is there at all given the heat which feels like walking past an open oven on full blast.
Dayaba and Jada tell of how the failure of their millet crop has brought them to the clinic: ‘We didn’t collect any food from the harvest,’ says Dayaba. ‘At the time we planted millet, there was not enough rain.’ Normally their millet plants would reach six foot high but they made to just two foot before succumbing to the drought. Jada immediately read the danger signs: ‘Straight after I planted the millet I saw the situation was becoming bad. The rain came at the right time but it stopped just after a few days. We didn’t produce anything. So I left for Burkina Faso. This is the worst situation I’ve ever faced.’
He wasn’t the only one from his village to head abroad seeking work and income to send home. ‘My neighbours are facing the same situation, almost all the men in my village – between 60 to 70 men – left at the same time to go abroad. Only five old men stayed in the village.
‘We had to go because we had nothing. We had to find work so we could send back some money; it wasn’t because we liked leaving. Even if we stayed in the village there was nothing we could do for the women. As a man, we’re supposed to find something to eat for our wives and children but we don’t even have a goat to sell to buy food. It was a hard decision but we had to do it.’ Three months ago, the work ran out in Burkina and Jada returned to Niger and an uncertain future.
‘We don’t know how the next harvest will be. Only God knows. I have fear in my heart because if not for the grace of God I might lose my daughter.’ Jada said, ‘My prayer is that God will give us a good harvest. It may rain but that might not give us a big harvest. Our strength is fading and we are fearful.’
What Tearfund is doing to help
Seven Tearfund partners in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger are responding to the food crisis, helping crop growers and livestock producers with emergency measures. Depending on the location, they are distributing food, running cash-for-work projects, selling food at reduced prices, supporting grain banks and introducing market gardening.
As so many people rely on agriculture for their livelihoods, cash-for-work schemes provide an invaluable income boost when times are hard. People get paid for activities that benefit the wider community, for example, planting trees to protect the soil and building barriers to prevent the encroaching desert.
Market gardening is helping communities diversify their food beyond staple cereal crops, such as millet. Partners are providing training, tools and seeds so people can produce a variety of vegetables. Growing tomatoes, cabbages, onions, carrots, peppers and aubergines not only boosts people’s diets but provides them with cash crops to supplement their incomes.
Grain banks enable people to buy food at reduced prices in times of shortage. After each harvest, a family will put a sack of grain into the bank, plus extra by way of ‘interest’.
Tearfund partners have been working in vulnerable communities for many years, often alongside local churches, to improve livelihoods and to reduce the risk of disasters.
They have long term plans to strengthen people’s resilience, for example, by diversifying incomes, introducing drought-resistant crops and improving farming techniques and water sources.
Working closely with communities on such solutions ensures such projects are owned locally and therefore have long term viability.
The Dawning of a New Era in Myanmar – 8 May 2012
Up to last year, a military junta had ruled Myanmar for nearly five decades. The rule of the military government was characterised by human rights abuses, increasing poverty and deep-seated corruption.In the remote mountainous regions, one in three children is malnourished and one in five people lacks access to safe water. After Afghanistan Myanmar is the second poorest nation in Asia.
Peace is coming
However, hope is stirring in this nation and there is a movement towards peace and reconciliation. Political prisoners have been freed, oppressive laws have been overturned and the government has signed peace agreements with many of the ethnic minority tribal militias. It is against this backdrop that the April 1st by-election put Aung San Suu Kyi (Leader of the National league for Democracy) into parliament.
Tearfund is working with local churches to help the people of Myanmar rebuild their lives. Houses are being reconstructed, wells are being repaired to provide clean water and families are being provided with seeds and tools to replant their fields. ‘They (returning Kachin refugees) lost everything,’ says Min Nwe, a World Concern staff member, ‘and they are returning with only the clothes they wear. It is planting season so it is essential that the rice seeds are planted soon so families can get a good harvest and feed themselves.’
The people of Myanmar are on the brink of historic times. Please join with us in praying and supporting the people of Myanmar – praying that God’s church will be able to rebuild broken lives.
Please give – to bring them hope and a future.
- €18 can enable Tearfund’s partners to supply emergency food supplies such as rice and lentils
- €55 can provide a family with essential household items, water containers and blankets
- €16 per month (over a year) can help a family restart a small business and become self-sufficient again
Fear of looming famine in Sahel – 17 Feb 2012
Food price hikes, erratic weather patterns and insecurity are compounding a serious food crisis unfolding in West Africa.
Millions of people don’t have enough to eat after inadequate rains and insect infestations led to poor harvests and livestock losses in the Sahel region. Niger and Chad are the worst affected but parts of Burkina Faso and Mali are also deteriorating. See BBC photos here
Gaston Slanwa, Tearfund’s Country Representative for Niger, said, ‘Staple food prices have shot up to almost 40 per cent higher than a year ago. One factor is the rise in violence in neighbouring northern Nigeria which has led to the closure of the border, restricting the movement of people and commodities. This is having a big impact on food security in the region.’
More than 200,000 children in Niger are acutely malnourished and dwindling food supplies are leading to ‘crisis levels’ in some areas of the country.
Following the recent harvest, the price of food, such as millet, should be falling but the reverse has happened. According to the World Food Programme, a 100 kg bag of millet that cost US$29 last October is now selling for more than US$41. Watch this short World Food Programme film clip
In Chad, access to food is also becoming critical as prices rocket with only one out of 56 areas having normal levels of rainfall.
Passiri Levourne, Tearfund’s Country Representative for Chad, said, ‘Everywhere around the country, insufficient food is available in local markets and prices continue to rise. Malnutrition rates are increasing and are now above ten per cent.’
Window of opportunity
In Mali, there are pockets of severe food shortages, with peanut and bean crops failing in many areas. In Burkina Faso, overall cereal production is expected to be significantly down on previous years. Here too food prices are also much higher than a year ago.
Tearfund continues to support national partners to improve access to food supplies, as well as working on longer term measures, such as agricultural training, providing drought-resistant seeds and repairing water sources, to strengthen communities to deal with food insecurity. Partners are stepping up their support for vulnerable communities to make sure they are best prepared for the difficult year ahead.
Robert Schofield, Tearfund’s Disaster Management Director, said, ‘There is a small window of opportunity over the next three months for communities to work on preventative measures to avert the type of full blown food crisis we saw in East Africa last summer.
‘Please stand with Tearfund and our partners and pray for concerted action across the Sahel region by governments, aid agencies and donors to support the most vulnerable through a tough time.’
Haiti 2 years on – 9 Jan 2012
Catherine Carey, a nurse in Dublin, went to Haiti for 12 days with Tearfund’s first-ever medical team in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. Here, she writes of the steps being taken by Tearfund to help people recover from the devastation of the 2010 earthquake.
In the hustle and bustle of morning rush hour in Port-au-Prince, children stream out of slums – immaculate in their school uniforms. Women in smart skirts and blouses walk by, carrying baskets of produce on their heads. Surfaceless roads, still featuring piles of earthquake-damage rubble at the side of them, are jammed with four-wheel drives, cars and motorbikes.
Amid the chaos, it’s difficult to get to our destination – a church building where we’ll hold our baby clinic. Tomorrow, we’ll take to the roads again, and by the end of the week, we’ll have completed an exhausting circuit of open spaces, church buildings and temporary camps, where people still live in tents, almost two years since the 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit the Caribbean country.
At each temporary camp, we’ll begin with the community volunteer making a megaphone announcement to alert people to the fact that the clinic is about to begin. We’ll then offer free antenatal and postnatal advice to mothers, and weigh babies and provide vaccinations to the infants. In the open areas, we’ll hang the weighing scales from the branches of trees!
The daily grind
Life in Haiti is far from easy. It was the poorest country in the western hemisphere, before the earthquake struck. In one of the tented camps, where hundreds of people live under tarpaulin, the Haitians proudly show off their primary school that they’re running in abandoned buses that act as classrooms. There are few books; the teachers are volunteers. But, despite all this, children are learning to read and write.
For those fortunate enough to have a job, work usually starts at 7am and runs to 7pm, six days a week. And the typical wage packet for these long hours is just $5 per day – $30 for the whole week.
As a member of the 11-strong medical team from Tearfund, I spent the time attached to Kings Hospital, supported by Tearfund partner World Relief. World Relief have used post-earthquake funding from Tearfund to support a number of people with start-up business loans. Among those to benefit are community volunteers Kathleen and Antoinette, who I had the privilege of meeting one day. Kathleen has used her $200 grant to produce peanut butter from peanuts and this helps her support her children and younger siblings. Meanwhile, Antoinette sells charcoal for fuel. Kathleen and Antoinette lost so much in the earthquake, yet they getting on with their lives and volunteering to work in their community by helping at the clinics and providing health education classes.
Isolated but not alone
On one of the last days before I came home, I left my usual nursing routine in Port-au-Prince and made the three-hour, 25km journey along a windy highway to the highland village of Leogane, where the epicentre of the earthquake was. From there, I made a 45-minutes journey in a jeep, followed by a hike through a riverbed and up a dirt track, to reach a stream that is being diverted by Tearfund to provide clean water for the village.
I met some local people who were provided with new homes, and I saw a transitional school that has been built by Tearfund. Because of the village’s isolated position, Tearfund has been the only organisation to work there. All the building supplies have been carried by hand, up the mountain, by the local people.
Priscilla is a mother whose home was destroyed in the earthquake. With immense pride, she showed me round the two-room shelter that had been built for her family by Tearfund. One of the most moving moments of my trip was when I held hands with Priscilla and we prayed together – two mothers from different countries sharing in God’s love.
Increasing desperation in East Africa – 6 Oct 2011
‘This is the worst crisis we’ve ever experienced. We’ve gone from a reasonably successful life to utter devastation.’
The words of Salina Mamoru convey something of the detrimental impact of the drought affecting more than 13 million people in East Africa but her appearance and living conditions also speak volumes. The 37-year-old is staying in the Katilu displacement camp in Turkana, northern Kenya, a dry, sandy and dusty place that has no home comforts.
Yet people like Salina come here in hope they will find food and water, two things in incredibly short supply in northern Kenya, as well as Somalia and southern Ethiopia after months without rain.
For Salina and her neighbours, accommodation at the camp consists of huts made of mud and sticks, with a few residents having sheets of plastic to bolster their flimsy rooves.
Salina has six children to look after and all her money has gone on buying food and medicines to keep them alive. Her husband can’t find work in this parched landscape and there’s no help forthcoming from the government or anyone else.
Salina, who is thin and tired, prays for three things, that her sick children will get better, her husband will find work and there’ll be rain soon.
It’s a prayer echoed by mother-of-four Maka who walked 28 days through the bush between Somalia and Kenya. It was a sapping and heartbreaking journey, with Maka seeing people die along the way due to lack of food and water.
‘People would say “I can’t walk anymore” then sit down under a tree and die,’ she recalls. ‘We don’t have enough food and water. I don’t know what to do with my sick child.’
Tearfund partner, Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC), is responding in northern Kenya, providing water and repairing broken boreholes to get supplies back on line. Fellow partner, Christian Community Services of Mount Kenya East (CCSMKE), is also helping by getting water to needy families through organising a shuttle of tankers to the area.
Across East Africa, seven Tearfund partners are tackling hunger caused mainly by drought and high food prices in the hardest-hit regions of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. Life-saving services are being provided to 100,000 refugees and displaced people through distributing food and water and providing cash-for-work, shelter materials and essential non-food items.
Tearfund is also involved in long term work to increase the resilience of communities by improving farming methods and the way people manage water.
However the forecasts are for the crisis to worsen over the coming months, with humanitarian help being needed well into 2012.
Pumpynut - a miracle food – 7 Sep 2011
Throughout the emergencies of the 1980s and 1990s, Tearfund’s emergency teams would set up therapeutic feeding centres in places like Ethiopia and Sudan – essentially intensive care units – in rural areas and mothers came from far and wide, bringing their children for treatment.
Children were fed with special foods that had to be prepared carefully to ensure that they got the correct benefit from it, and nursed back to health over a number of weeks. It was expensive, difficult and hugely disruptive to poor families who had to walk miles to the feeding centres. Added to that, it became clear that therapeutic feeding centres were only reaching a tiny percentage of people and doing virtually nothing to combat the causes of food shortages and malnutrition.
Pumpynut – a miracle solution
It was felt that there had to be a better and more effective way of tackling emergencies and combating malnutrition. The breakthrough came when a Frenchman called Andre Briend came up with a ready-prepared food called Plumpynut. Essentially, a nutritious high-energy paste made from nuts, Plumpynut requires no preparation and keeps for several months.
Tearfund knew that it was on to something that could revolutionise the approach to malnutrition. “Instead of bringing people in for treatment, we could bring this ready-to-eat food to them,” says Reuben Coulter, Chief Executive of Tearfund Ireland, who witnessed this approach in use in Darfur. With supplies of Plumpynut in local health facilities, more people could be reached and malnutrition could be caught earlier.
Even in emergency situations it was found that most severely malnourished children don’t need major medical attention. With Plumpynut and the minimum medical attention, they get better. If the child doesn’t have any medical complications they can be sent home with their mother and a few weeks supply of this food. The child recovers in front of the community because of the food the mother is feeding it rather than because of some magic cure by some foreign doctor – the empowerment and value to that mother is enormous.
Realising the potential of this approach, the Irish aid agency Concern teamed up with another organisation called Valid International, and conducted extensive trials and research. Tearfund also became involved and together they compiled whole body of evidence confirming the success of community management of acute malnutrition (CMAM)* as it became known. Today this approach is used in all Tearfund’s nutrition programmes in emergency situations.
The evidence was brought to the World Health Organisation (WHO). CMAM and Plumpynut was able to help 75 percent of malnourished children at lower cost, better survival rates and less disruption to the families. In 2007, the WHO changed its policy to recommend this approach to dealing with malnutrition, and more children’s lives have been saved as a result.