West Africa Crisis - your questions answered
With your support, we are ensuring people in remote villages have enough to eat.
We are paying people in cash or food to work on projects like half-moon fields, which prevent water from draining away.
We are running health centres for malnourished children in Niger.
We're making sure refugees from Mali have food and supplies - like pots, pans and clothes.
What has happened?
A major food crisis in 2012 has affected more than 18 million people across West Africa’s Sahel Region (Niger, Mali, Senegal, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Chad). The food crisis was principally caused by a poor harvest in many areas in 2011. The harvest failed because of erratic weather patterns and – in some areas – pest infestations during the last agricultural season.
Other factors have exacerbated the situation:
- Grain shortages triggered steep rises in food prices.
- The long history of increasingly frequent, recurrent droughts has made people more vulnerable: many communities have not yet recovered from the last major food crisis in 2009/10.
- Armed conflict in Mali has forced hundreds of thousands of people to leave their homes and tens of thousands of people to cross into an area of Niger that was already facing severe food shortages.
- Wars in Libya and Cote d’Ivoire in 2011 forced many migrant workers to return to their home countries. The loss of money sent home to relatives has damaged the economies of countries like Niger.
- Floods in August and September 2012 have damaged crops and driven people from their homes.
While the crisis is far from over, the relatively early and coordinated response by governments and aid agencies appears to have prevented a major catastrophe. According to David Gressly, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the UN, “The response was early enough to contain most of the suffering that would have happened, deaths that would have happened without that response.”
Thanks to your generous donations to our West Africa Crisis appeal, as well as your ongoing support for our Emergency Response Team, we injected £400,000 in emergency funding to respond to the crisis.
What are the humanitarian needs?
The relatively early and coordinated response has meant that this year’s food crisis in West Africa has not been as disastrous as the food crisis in East Africa in 2011.
The 2012 rainy season across the region has also been better than that of 2011, so the harvest due in October and November is likely to be far better than last year’s.
However, millions of people in West Africa still face food shortages – and will continue to do so even beyond the next harvest. Even in a normal year, a staggering 250,000 children die in the region because of malnutrition. Many communities will continue to be extremely vulnerable to harvests failing again in the future, unless long-term action is taken.
Today, the situation in Mali continues to be of great concern: fighting has driven hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, and, with no land on which to grow crops, many of them are reliant on food aid. According to the UNHCR, military intervention in Mali could create as many as 450,000 additional refugees in neighbouring countries, as well as making 180,000 more people homeless within Mali itself. Military intervention in the coming months could therefore lead to a major humanitarian emergency.
Floods in Niger and elsewhere in the region have also left hundreds of thousands of people homeless and unable to harvest their crops.
Who are CAFOD's partners and what are they doing?
We are principally working with Caritas Développement Niger (CADEV-Niger) to respond to the crisis in Niger. We are also supporting other Church partners in Mali, Mauritania and Chad.
We have been working with our partners to:
- Run nutrition centres, providing treatment and food supplements for severely malnourished babies and mothers
- Pay people in cash or food to work on projects that benefit their communities - like improving farmland to ensure that water is retained in the soil.
- Supply food directly to the most vulnerable, including older people, widows and families caring for orphans
- Organise seed fairs so that farmers can plant in time for the next harvest.
- Support village granaries, which mean that villages can buy grain when it’s cheap and sell it to individual villagers at subsidised prices when times are tough. Village granaries are a hugely effective long-term solution to food crises, enabling communities to support themselves year after year.
- Help people affected by the recent floods in Niger by distributing emergency packs and providing healthcare to prevent the spread of cholera.
- Respond to the refugee crisis caused by fighting in Mali, providing food, shelter, clothes and kitchen kits to thousands of people who have been forced to flee into Niger.
How much money has CAFOD pledged on short-term relief programmes and where?
We have donated £400,000 to respond to this year’s crisis in West Africa - in Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Chad.
How long has CAFOD been working in West Africa?
We have worked with partners including CADEV-Niger, CRS and Islamic Relief in Niger since 2005, with a particular focus on nutrition, food security and response to floods. In February 2011, CAFOD opened an office in Niger and appointed a Programme Manager based in Niamey, in order to engage in the longer term in Niger to address chronic vulnerabilities.
Can CAFOD’s projects really make a difference?
By responding early to this crisis, before it hit the headlines, our projects have saved lives. Thanks to your donations, severely malnourished children and their families received treatment at health and nutrition centres that prevented them from dying. We have helped some of the most vulnerable communities in Niger to survive this year’s crisis – and ensured that they have seeds so that the 2012 harvest will not be as bad.
In the longer term, our projects are helping people to become more resilient to future disasters. For example, village granaries allow communities to cope even after poor harvests because they are able to manage food stocks and control food prices. We are also helping communities to manage the limited water supplies more effectively – in particular by developing “off-season” irrigation systems for farming.
This year’s crisis has highlighted the fact that if governments, donors, aid agencies like CAFOD, local organisations like CADEV-Niger, and international bodies like the United Nations act early and in a coordinated way, it is possible to prevent a full-scale humanitarian catastrophe. It is crucial that we continue to improve the way we work together to respond to emergencies.
The world also needs to act now to end the chronic food shortages in West Africa. We are part of the Sahel Working Group that is looking at ways of building resilience in the region. We jointly commissioned a report – Escaping the hunger cycle: pathways to resilience in the Sahel – that calls for long-term solutions, and we are working with our partners to implement those solutions on the ground.