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News : Mali

The human cost - West Africa Food Crisis

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

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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.

Miracle tree

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.’

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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.

Hard decision

‘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.

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Sahel Food Crisis

Sahel Food Crisis – 9 Jun 2010

In West Africa, millions are desperate for food.

(Picture – Previously malnourished girl receiving nutritional supplement from Tearfund partner CREDO in Burkino Faso)

Bad harvests over a number of years mean staple foods like grain have shot up in price by as much as 43 per cent. At the same time, the value of cattle has plummeted. Families would normally trade their cattle for food – but now they’re not worth enough. This means they have no money, and many people are eating just one meal a day.

In Niger alone, a massive seven million people – half the country’s population – need urgent help.

In Chad, a further two million people need immediate assistance.

“The Sahel is one of the most destitute regions in the world and the spectre of hunger is pushing increasing numbers of people from the countryside and into cities where they are searching for food to feed their families,” says Thomas Yanga, World Food Programme’s regional director for West Africa. “People have lost crops, livestock, and the ability to cope on their own, and the levels of malnutrition among women and children have already risen to very high levels,” he added.

Millions more across Burkina Faso and Mali, as well as Niger and Chad, are at risk, and will fall into crisis if we don’t act now.

Our partners have been working in this region for 20 years. But, to respond to this growing crisis and save lives, they need more resources. We have therefore launched an appeal.

You can help support our continuing relief efforts by giving to our Emergency Fund

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