Oxfam racing against time to help the people of the Sahel

Published: 6 January 2006

As racers churn their way through the desert dunes of Mauritania and Mali on their way to hoped-for victory in this year’s Lisbon-Dakar rally, the billowing sands keep some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations out of sight.

Pastoralist herders in the arid band separating the Sahara desert from the fertile coast known as the Sahel are facing serious food shortages for the second year in a row, which will have long-term effects on their ability to sustain their livelihoods, their herds and their hopes for good health and prosperity.

“If even a fraction of the millions of dollars being spent on this year’s rally were devoted to the people of the Sahel, it would go a long way towards helping some of the world’s most vulnerable people,” said David Crawford, Oxfam’s Sahel senior humanitarian advisor.

“As the rally continues through its 15 stages it is important to remember that Oxfam, in cooperation with development partners, governments and communities, are also in a race against time to help these people. There is a world beyond the desert’s dunes.”
The people of the Sahel are no strangers to chronic hunger; it is a part of the world where the malnutrition rate, even in a good year, is twice that of other poor countries – even those in conflict.

For every 1,000 children, some 219 in Mali will die before reaching the age of five. Malian women are ten times more likely to die in childbirth than women in the United States. A Malian’s average life expectancy is 45 years – not much older than six-time Dakar Rally motorbike champion Stephane Peterhansel. (source: United Nations World Health Organization)

But because of an inexhaustible cycle of drought and expanding poverty in the face of higher prices for staple goods, the food crisis in the region has deepened.

“This is a part of the world that is regularly overlooked and often ignored, where circumstances that would provoke immediate action elsewhere are accepted as normal – both by governments and the international community,” said Nick Ireland, Oxfam’s regional humanitarian coordinator.

“Responding to everyday needs so that they do not balloon into a crisis that threatens the lives of tens of thousands of people is a priority for Oxfam in the Sahel, because it is not just about short-term fixes but also long-term development solutions that ensure there is enough food, sustainable access to clean water and the ability for people to earn a living.”

Contact Information

For more information about Oxfam’s programs in Mali, Mauritania or Senegal or to set up an interview in French or in English with any of our program staff, please contact
Lauren Gelfand, Oxfam GB West Africa media adviser, Dakar Senegal (221) 639-4178