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The Sahel region of West Africa is facing a major food crisis for the third time in seven years. The region has suffered from poverty and vulnerability for generations, but now drought, poor harvests, high food prices, environmental degradation, and decreased remittances from Libya and Cote d’Ivoire are putting millions at risk.
Alice Thomas and I have just arrived in the region, and we’ll be assessing the needs of displaced people here over the next two weeks. We’ll start our trip by meeting with aid actors in Senegal, and then attempt to visit refugees and drought-affected populations in Burkina Faso and Niger.
The main goal of our mission is to assess the situation of Malian refugees who have fled to neighboring countries already facing chronic food and water insecurity. In addition to evaluating the refugees’ needs and protection gaps, we will also look at the impact of refugees on host areas, and try to understand if ongoing development efforts in the region will withstand the effects of climate change.
UN figures released at the end of April indicate that 16.6 million people are affected in nine countries across the Sahel – with more than one million children at risk of starvation. Acute food crises in both 2005 and 2010 have eroded the recovery capacity of vulnerable households, while fighting in northern Mali has forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes. The situation is particularly tough for the region’s pastoralists who have been harmed by poor harvests, water scarcity, and limited livestock mobility due to the conflict in Mali.
The primary needs of displaced people in the Sahel include potable water, food, shelter, and basic health care to prevent the spread of epidemic diseases. However, protection is also a serious concern, with some women reporting being raped while crossing between the two countries.
The precarious security situation along Mali’s long border has also prevented UNHCR from monitoring the conditions of refugees in some areas. Where access is possible, UNHCR continues to detect groups of refugees scattered outside the official refugee sites, and is trying to move to official sites to ensure they have access to essential services.
While the needs of the Sahel’s displaced are severe, the crisis is compounded by the fact that refugees are fleeing into some of the region’s most food-insecure areas. Indeed, it is not just the refugees who are a burden on host communities: many fleeing families have also brought their livestock with them, putting even more pressure on water supplies and grazing lands.
Donors have been quicker to respond to the Sahel’s needs this year than in 2010, but the UN’s appeal remained only 56 percent funded as of the end of April. Donors have also been criticized by aid agencies for ignoring repeated requests for longer-term funding that might address the region’s chronic hunger rates – rates that may rise as climate change makes life here even harder.
We’ll have more updates from the field as our mission continues, so check back regularly for updates - and follow us on Twitter, too!May 31, 2012 | Tagged as: Africa, Burkina Faso, Climate Displacement, Cote d'Ivoire, Libya, Mali, Niger, Humanitarian Response, Protection & Security