The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Sahel food crisis: A step forward?

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I blogged two weeks ago about the ongoing Sahel food aid crisis and my colleague Anna Kramer has provided a great infographic outlining the key causes and facts. Today, at a meeting being organized by the European Commission, governments, UN agencies, and INGOs (including Oxfam) are meeting in Brussels to discuss the crisis and chart […]

Farmer Kassa Danfakha stands in his field during the dry season; Bembou village, south-eastern Senegal. Credit: Brett Eloff/ Oxfam America

I blogged two weeks ago about the ongoing Sahel food aid crisis and my colleague Anna Kramer has provided a great infographic outlining the key causes and facts. Today, at a meeting being organized by the European Commission, governments, UN agencies, and INGOs (including Oxfam) are meeting in Brussels to discuss the crisis and chart a path forward.

Much of the focus of the meeting will undoubtedly be on meeting immediate emergency needs and filling the appalling funding gap that remains between what governments have identified as needed in the region and what aid has so far been committed. Of the 1.5 billion requested so far, only $642 million has been committed by donors. The US has provided $308 million. But, with such a large gap, it is clear that all donors—the US included—must give more. All of this of course assumes that this additional assistance can be used in creative ways to get assistance to people in need on time, which is now. Perhaps this a manageable task in some communities, but clearly harder in other places such as northern Mali.

Efforts to ensure a successful harvest are also badly in need of funding at the moment. Farmers and pastoralists are again looking forward to the rainy season which is expected to begin in the days and weeks ahead. The onset of the rains usually signals hard work as farmers go to the fields to prepare and plant their crops, but only if they have seeds.

In Senegal, seeds for key crops such as groundnuts appear to be in scarce supply. After the poor crop last year, farmers had few seeds to save. And what seeds they have managed to keep have become a tempting source of nutrition as other food has run out. Without immediate assistance to meet emergency needs and enable farmers to plant and pastoralists to maintain their herds, the cycle of hunger will continue. This is the discussion in Dakar and Niamey, and other capital cities in the region where hunger has taken hold. It will also be on the agenda for the Consultation.

Recovery activities—helping to rebuild assets that have been depleted during a crisis period—such as emergency input distribution are embedded in drought disaster response. The Consultation is also slated to tackle issue such as this in terms of the emergent (and in vogue) concept of resilience building. In a conversation eerily similar to one that took place earlier this year with regard to the Horn of Africa crisis (and where the US launched a multi-stakeholder partnership), the EU is slated to announce a partnership on resilience for the West Africa region.

However it is defined (see here for one example)—whether to signal the need to bridge the gap donors often face between humanitarian aid and long-term development programs; focus attention on government-level early warning systems, preparedness, and response; or to support community-based efforts to assess, prepare, respond to and recover from shocks—the concept of resilience may be a useful one to organize around. (For an interesting Q&A covering some of these issues, see this transcript from a recent USAID-sponsored event.) But governments and other stakeholders need to clearly define a shared framework for understanding and analysis of how resiliency will be operationalized at the community level and how it layers with other development effort to sustainably improve food security and reduce vulnerability over time. The danger is that resilience becomes a fad that garners attention in the short term without attracting the resources needed to bring about transformative and lasting results.

Representatives meeting at the European Commission High Level Meeting on the Sahel must address both of these issues. It’s a tall order, admittedly. But one that can’t be ignored.

Oxfam is aiming to help 1.2 million people across seven countries with programs that include cash transfers and cash-for-work initiatives, veterinary care for the livestock on which many families depend, and access to clean water and sanitation. We are also campaigning to change the root causes of this crisis. Find out how you can support our efforts.

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