Hunger in the Sahel: A permanent emergency?

Ensuring the next drought will not cause another humanitarian crisis

In 2010, more than 10 million people have been affected by the food crisis in the Sahel. Nearly 500,000 severely malnourished children were taken into care between January and November 2010 in Niger, Chad, Mali and Burkina Faso. Most of the livestock herds in the Sahel were decimated. The images and the stories of hunger harked back to the food crisis of 2005 and the famines in 1973–1974 and 1984–1985.

This situation is unfortunately not new in the Sahel. Chronic malnutrition rates are among the highest on the planet. The various crises which have struck this region in the last few decades have led to lower living standards in the communities and have made them economically and ecologically vulnerable. This vulnerability is complex and is inextricably linked to poverty.

Today we cannot predict the next rains with any accuracy, but we can be certain that another drought will arrive sooner or later. What should we do to prevent it from once again leading to a humanitarian disaster? All the actors involved, including the international NGOs, need to take the time to think about their role and how they can improve their responses in the future. This briefing note aims to examine, in the light of the most recent crisis, what lessons can be drawn for improving the response from the international community before, during and after food crises in the Sahel.

Key recommendations

  • Before and after a crisis, increase the resilience and incomes of communities through the incorporation of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), national policies and programmes for social protection and social safety nets, and investment in agriculture and food security.
  • Prevent and plan for crises better with increased investment in information and early warning systems and consistent, coordinated interventions.
  • Improve the quality and relevance of emergency response programs and increase the funding made available to respond to crises.
  • The governments of the Sahel should approve and adopt the new Charter for Food Security as laid out by the CILSS (Permanent Inter-States Committee to Fight Drought in Sahel)/Club du Sahel.