The Sahel Food Crisis
By Roland Berehoudougou
Disaster Risk Manager, Plan International West Africa
When Plan International and other aid agencies sounded the alarm bells and appealed for public assistance to finance anemergency response to the Sahel Food Crisis, there were those sceptics who saw this crisis as an annual chronic foodshortage which was being exploited by aid agencies to raise money.Those sceptics were wrong.So what is an emergency? What is a food crisis? What is involved in declaring an emergency or pronouncing a situation
to be a “food crisis”?
A number of issues are taken into consideration including forecast about the availability, cost of food, environmental factors and other internal and external factors which are discussed below.The Sahel Food Crisis is the result of a complex emergency in which these factors have come together to create thisfood and nutritional crisis. In fact, had these not occurred then there would be no food crisis, no emergency, and nofundraising appeals.
Drought causes conflict
In the last three to five years, the people in the Sahel have been confronted with either lower than average rain, normalrainfall or excessive rainfall causing floods. As a result harvest levels have been good in some places and poor in others.In countries of poor harvests, farmers and their families have been coping using straightforward approaches of cuttingback on their expenses. In the Sahel, families sold their livestock; others sold their furniture and other possessions. Afterthree consecutive years, their assets have been depleted and men, women and children have been looking for work tosupplement household incomes.The conflicts in
the Maghreb, and Libya meant that more than 200,000 migrant workers from the Sahelhad to flee those countries and return home. Given the average size of families in the Sahel, about 7-12 members perfamily, two million people suddenly became affected and had reduced incomes.In addition, the Malian refugees which poured over the borders into neighbouring countries are an additional stress onfood insecure areas. For every one refugee, there are five animals. So if you consider 375,000 animals coming overwith 75,000 refugees, for example, those animals can dry up a water-scarce irrigation dam in just few days. Yet, cattleare a lifeline and in a food crisis, they cannot be forgotten.In addition to depriving people of a considerable source of income, the drought in the Sahel is a source of conflict.Shepherds, for example, who are forced to take their animals southward in search of pasture, come into conflict withfarmers.