A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
“I used to be able to harvest 100 bundles of millet from my field. This year, I have only had three.” Like the majority of Nigerien farmers, Son Allah Maitchangal is strongly affected by the poor rains.
“We have suffered floods followed by droughts. In the middle of the season, when the heavy rain came it ran straight off the dry earth on the plateau, flooding the village and destroying several mud huts. Even the concrete mosque was nearly destroyed.”
Usually, Son Allah is able to feed his large family from his millet harvest and the extra money he earns from selling his meat kebabs but this year with no harvest he is forced to try and survive on the money he earns form selling kebabs alone – and it’s nowhere near enough. There is no food. The reserves are empty and more than 6 million people in Niger are now facing a severe food crisis.
A two-fold solution
The work initiated by Oxfam to reclaim 200 hectares of land degraded by the flash floods offers the community a two-fold solution: It provides 83 vulnerable households with an income, plus it protects the environment.
The people involved in the “cash for work” program are making half moon shaped irrigation channels, so that when the next rainy season arrives, the rain water will be trapped and forced to permeate the soil rather than run off the surface. In doing so it will help replenish the water table and facilitate the regeneration of vegetation and agricultural land.
The hungry months are just beginning
Son Allah is an expert in this kind of work. He has been doing it for the last 15 years in the surrounding villages and has seen the benefits first hand. Son Allah is currently working on the Oxfam project in his own village. "I can make three per day.”
At the end of work in April, Son Allah hopes to see the results of all this hard work. He will have an income to help see him through the hungry months – which are just beginning. "With help, we can plant trees and sow grass before the rainy season comes. Hopefully, if we have a good rainy season, we will have pasture for our cattle and in a few years, the plateau may even be reforested.”
Photos: Fatoumata Diabate
Published March 2012.
Report: Escaping the Hunger Cycle: Pathways to resilience in the Sahel (November 2011)