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.
Chances are you know her as Ginny Weasley in the Harry Potter movies, but there’s more to actress Bonnie Wright than magic and monsters.
Bonnie recently visited Senegal with us in July to see firsthand how the food crisis in the Sahel region of West Africa is affecting vulnerable communities, and to learn about what Oxfam’s doing to support them.
Bonnie met local families in the Kedougou region of Southern Senegal. Initially surprised that a country facing such severe food shortages could be so green, she said: “When I arrived … it was hard to see that this was a country where thousands of people are suffering from extreme hunger … everywhere was green and lush. I quickly learned however that this green was hiding the reality, a deep seated hunger that was so present in the lives of the families I spoke to.”
From three meals a day down to just one
One of the people Bonnie met was mother-of-six Dieynasa Ba (35). As the lean season approaches, Dieynasa is worried about how she’ll feed her family. Her village relies on agriculture and when bad weather ruins their crops, they have no food to survive.
“We are farmers, only farmers. We rely on agriculture, without this we have no food to survive. Last year we didn’t have anything. It was really bad, things were really tight,” she explains. Whereas her family used to eat three meals a day, now they’re surviving on just one meal. One of her sons rides his bike 7km to school and back again every day — needless to say, she wonders how long he can keep this up on an empty stomach.
“We are supposed to be able to provide our children with three meals a day but since the harvest we can only provide one meal. You realize that it’s very difficult but I try to keep food mainly for the children.”
Because Dieynasa doesn’t have a job or source of income, her husband has had to move away in order to make money for the family. “Your husband can’t do anything if you don’t have a job. My husband had to go off to find work and then come back at night, sometimes with nothing. He is the chief of the family and it is difficult for him not to be able to provide for us, he feels embarrassed to see his family hungry.”
First flood, then drought
Bonnie Wright also met the family of Aissatou Kanle and Ibel and their 8 children and dog. They are farmers who grow corn and rice. “Last year the corn was destroyed by flooding, and then the following lack of rain destroyed my rice harvest,“ Aissatou says. “So with the last year I didn’t have enough of rice or corn to sell or for my family to eat.“
The only way they survive is by asking their neighbors for help, or ask their parents to help feed their children. “I had to go find work building toilets in the mines, so I could raise money to give to my wife to provide for ten people in my family. I had to walk three hours there and back with only very little food inside me.
“The future of my family is education. I will fight to give them food so they can learn. I can’t just feed them without seeing them go to school and I can’t let them go to school without eating. I will fight for them. I don’t want to see them having the same life as me.“
Oxfam's cash transfers help
“My harvest last year was really badly affected, especially when my plants were growing,” said Fatima Diallo, a 20-year-old farmer struggling to feed her six children.
“My husband died and I was married to my husband’s brother. My new husband does not have the means to feed me or my family. So when the harvests are not good, I worry about my family and how I will feed my children. The health of my children is a problem, one of my children is very sick and I have to borrow money so I can get to the hospital.”
Now Fatima has received a cash transfer card from Oxfam. “When I receive the money from Oxfam I will take my child to hospital, and buy food,” she says. “But I also want to buy some materials for school. I want a different future for my children. I hope that education will change their future.”
It’s a difficult situation for everyone affected, but with your support, families like Dieynasa’s, Aissatou's and Fatima's can take the first steps to getting their lives back on track. As Bonnie says: “I hope that with public support, Oxfam can continue to help people in these moments and tackle the underlying causes of the crisis to help prevent them happening again.”
Thanks to everyone who told world leaders to act on the food crisis gripping West Africa!
We're hoping to raise $66 million in order to reach 1.8 million people. So far we've raised two-thirds of that amount. (31 August 2012)