Food Crisis in the Sahel: Five steps to break the hunger cycle in 2012

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The first warnings of drought and poor harvests in Africa’s Sahel region emerged in late 2011, and vulnerable communities in many areas have been threatened by a looming food crisis. That crisis is now a reality, with 18.4 million people in nine countries vulnerable to its impact. Food stocks have already run out for some communities and are running dangerously low for others. Support to protect lives and livelihoods is urgently needed before the crisis becomes an emergency. Oxfam, ROPPA, RBM, APESS, POSCAO and WiLDAF are calling on donors, national governments, regional organizations, NGOs and UN agencies to fund support, target and coordinate effective assistance to the most vulnerable people, support regional markets, and invest in long-term resilience the break the hunger cycle. This paper was first published in April 2012 and updated in May 2012.
  Joint Agency Issue Briefing 31 May 2012 Food Crisis in the Sahel Five steps to break the hunger cycle in 2012  POSCAO-AC ‘The question is not whether there will be another food crisis in the Sahel in 2012, but to what extent’  –  EU Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva Summary Ever since the first warnings of drought and poor harvests in  Africa’s  Sahel region emerged in late 2011, vulnerable communities in many areas of the region have been threatened by a looming food crisis. That crisis is now real, and 18.4 million people in nine countries are vulnerable to its impact. Food stocks have already run out for some communities, and are running dangerously low for others. Support to protect lives and livelihoods is urgently needed as the crisis becomes an emergency. This briefing calls for urgent action to face up to five major challenges, built on a thorough analysis of the current situation in the Sahel and learning from the experience of previous crises in this region, as well as the recent catastrophic food crisis in the Horn of Africa, from which we know that the biggest risk is to wait. Oxfam, ROPPA, RBM, APESS, POSCAO and WILDAF call on donors, governments in the region, regional bodies, NGOs and UN agencies to: Close the funding gap now, to ensure programmes are in place to respond to the peak of the crisis; Ensure assistance targets the most vulnerable people, including those affected by conflict in Mali; Keep regional markets open to help make food is available and affordable; Strengthen leadership and coordination to ensure an effective response; Invest in the long term to build resilience and break the hunger cycle. If we act now, there is still time to protect many communities from the worst impacts of the food crisis. And by investing in the long term we can finally break the hunger cycle in the Sahel. The Sahel in 2012: Long-term vulnerabilities exposed by poor harvests, low pastures, and high food prices The causes of food crises in the Sahel are both long-term and short-term and require an understanding of why 300,000 children of this region die of malnutrition, even in a ‘non - crisis’ year. Cycles of drought combined with low levels of agricultural investment, environmental degradation, high population growth and acute levels of poverty contribute to a context of structural, chronic vulnerability. In this situation, even moderate external shocks can have major impacts, 1  while the recurrent nature of crises over the last ten years has meant that millions of people have not been able to recover assets in between shocks. The region’s vulnerability has been laid bare yet again by low and uneven rainfall combined with attacks on crops by birds, pests and locusts. Cereal production across the Sahel in autumn 2011 was 26 per cent lower than in 2010, creating a gross deficit of 2.7m tonnes. Some areas have fared worse, with production in The Gambia and Chad down over 50 per cent compared with 2010. 2  Food prices have been dangerously high, having failed to come down after the harvests, and data from April shows that prices in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso are again on the increase. In comparison with the five-year average, prices for millet are now 104% higher in Bamako, Mali, 91% higher in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and 28% and 47% higher respectively in Niamey and Maradi, Niger  3 . Given that 60 per cent of people in the Sahel buy their food in the market, and that food accounts for 80 per cent of the expenditure of the most vulnerable groups, this matters greatly. Many families are also no longer able to rely so much on alternative sources of income  –  a reduction in remittances from migrant workers previously sending money back from Libya and Nigeria, for example, has added further pressures on vulnerable families.  2  And while some coastal countries neighbouring the Sahel have produced more favourable harvests, there are unfortunately many doubts that the regional food market  –  which is functioning les well even than during the food crisis of 2010 - will be able to transfer enough food effectively to deficit areas (see page 4). Further, whilst insecurity in northern Nigeria has limited market effectiveness, conflict in northern Mali has greatly increased humanitarian needs while at the same time limited humanitarian access, increased food prices, disrupted pastoralist migration routes and prevented people from migrating to search for employment and income. The humanitarian impact: 18.4 million people affected in 2012 Some communities already find themselves in crisis, others see crisis on the horizon as an early lean season approaches and the annual ‘hunger gap’ lengthens. Overall , the lives and livelihoods of 18.4 million people are vulnerable to the food crisis, 6 million of whom are severely food insecure, while conflict in northern Mali has produced additional humanitarian needs through the displacement of more than 320,000 people since late January 2012. 4  Those most likely to be affected include women, small livestock holders, poor households with limited access to productive means, households who used to rely on seasonal migration in conflict affected areas, and communities living in areas affected by insecurity. The consequences are serious. According to an Oxfam survey in the Sahelian belt of Eastern Chad, for example, 63 per cent of households would be unable to cover their needs after February, 5  while cereal stocks in eight of the 22 regions of Chad will on average have disappeared in March. 6  There are already signs of extreme coping strategies, such as searching for grain in the earth that ants may have stored. In the Tillaberi region in western Niger, communities have seen their food stocks dwindle and their debts pile up, and many families are migrating to cities in search of food and jobs. Table 1: People in the Sahel region vulnerable to food insecurity, March 2012 There are also clear signs that the situation is worsening significantly. According to a recent analysis by a range of regional stakeholders, by March (map on left) areas of Mauritania and northern Mali were already being classified as ‘extreme’ (IPC Phase 4) . Projections for June show further areas of extreme food, while concerns are also being expressed about pockets of famine (IPC Phase 5) developing in northern Mali if nothing is done 8 . Map1. Food Security in the Sahel: CILSS, FEWSNET, FAO, WFP, OXFAM, ACF, Save the Children Without major interventions, livelihoods will be depleted and assets reduced as animals die or are sold for food (at a low price) and seeds are eaten, and people will not be able to engage in farming to prepare for the next harvest. Malnutrition rates will also rise significantly without preventive action. UNICEF estimates that more than one million children under five in the Sahel are threatened by severe acute malnutrition this year, rising to 1.5 million in the worst case scenario 9 . This will have long-term effects on child development and the creation of sustainable livelihoods, further entrenching poverty in the region. Country Total numbers food insecure/in areas at risk 7   Mauritania 700,000 food insecure, of which 290,000 severely Mali 4,600,000 food insecure, of which 3,600,000 severely Niger 6,112,089 food insecure, of which 1,916,855 severely Burkina Faso 2, 852, 280 food insecure Chad 3,622,200 food insecure, of which 1,180,300 severely Senegal 850,000 food insecure The Gambia 713,433 in areas at risk  3 The response to date and challenges ahead The response to date has in some important ways been more positive than in previous crises in the region: the early warning systems functioned relatively well; governments in the region raised the alarm quickly; and some donors mobilised funds more quickly than in previous crises. However, there remain huge gaps to fill and areas to strengthen quickly if the humanitarian response is effectively to meet the needs of the most vulnerable communities. This briefing outlines five major challenges that need to be faced and overcome in order to protect 18 million people from this y ear’s food crisis  and from crises in the future. If money can be mobilised quickly, if assistance can target and reach the most vulnerable people, if regional markets can keep food flowing, if leadership and coordination can be strengthened, and if investments can be made to build resilience in the long term, we can save lives and livelihoods in 2012, and we can start to break the hunger cycle in the Sahel.  1 Close the funding gap now, before the crisis hits its peak By investing now in earlier and more cost-effective actions, vulnerable populations can be better protected at a much lower cost than if action is delayed until the crisis hits.   Preventing malnutrition is far cheaper than treating it; keeping animal herds alive is many times less expensive than replacing them. In 2005, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator Jan Egeland estimated that it cost $1 per day to protect a child from malnutrition before that year’s food crisis in Niger, and $80 per day to save a child’s life from severe malnutrition by the time the crisis had reached its peak. 10  It is encouraging, therefore, that some donors mobilised funding at an early stage, even if the overall response remained too low. For example, in late 2011 ECHO had already committed additional funding to the region in anticipation of the crisis, and increased its support to €123.5 m in January 2012. A range of other donors have also since provided funds to support the early response. However, at the end of May 2012 a major gap in funding remains, with a number of donors yet to contribute, and others who need to do more to provide a fair share of the resources required. 11  The UN currently estimates that $1.5 billion is needed for the regional appeal, a figure that is likely to rise to $1.6 billion once the appeal for Mali is revised in early June. 12   As of 31 May, the UN Financial Tracking System (FTS) reports that $580 million of funding had been committed to the response, and an additional $220 million available to projects outside the official appeal. 13  This still leaves a funding gap of nearly $800 million compared to the estimated needs. Committing and disbursing the funding as early as possible is as important as the amount itself. In the 2011 Horn of  Africa crisis, for example, few funds were released until a full famine was declared, many months after the first warnings. Figure 1 shows how late funding was mobilised in relation to the first warnings, and how it was thus unable to halt the ever-rising rates of malnutrition that built up towards famine levels over many months. Figure 1: Early warnings and inadequate response to the Horn of Africa drought 2010  – 11 The huge influx of aid that was eventually committed did help save many lives and livelihoods, but many could have been protected at far less cost had this money been mobilised months earlier. 14  Similarly, in the 2010 Sahel food crisis, the USA authorised $50m in food aid for Niger from the US domestic market, but it took three to five months to arrive and one-thi r  d had not yet arrived by August  –  far too late for many. 15  May 2012 will be a key month for the scale-up of funds to this crisis, if they are to be translated into action on the ground in time for the  4 peak of the crisis. A key opportunity for this mobilisation could include a high-level conference on the Sahel proposed by the African Union, when new and existing donors would be invited to increase their contributions. Recommendations National governments and donors should immediately mobilise and speed up disbursement of sufficient funding to support national emergency response plans, in order to protect populations, ensuring that the emergency appeal currently being revised by the UN is fully financed. June’s AU high-level conference on the Sahel should be used as a key moment to mobilise funds, with each country expected to pay its fair share of emergency needs, as well as support longer-term measures to build resilience. Efforts should be made to ensure high-level participation from both existing and potential new donors in order to galvanise a step-change in the crisis response. 2 Ensure the right assistance targets the most vulnerable, including those affected by conflict in Mali While actors must intervene with sufficient speed, scale and resource, there must also be a strong focus on targeting the people who most need help, including women, small pastoralists and those affected by conflict. Pastoral zones received too little support, too late in 2010, and in 2012, pastoralists are again among the most affected groups, with reduced pasture and water resources, as well as reduced availability and access to livestock food supplies. In addition, declining terms of trade between animal and food prices have reduced their ability to buy food. It takes at least three years to rebuild a small stock of sheep and goats, and up to ten years to build up cattle stocks. Supporting pastoralist communities to keep animal herds alive will be many times less expensive than replacing them, and given that pastoralists are affected earlier than other groups, early action is particularly important. The specific needs of vulnerable women also require attention. In the poorest families, men often migrate to seek employment in other regions or countries, leaving women and children behind. When the search for employment fails, wives and children may have to leave as well and use precarious and destructive coping mechanisms such as selling assets, begging in towns or even prostitution. The impact of the crisis has revealed the weakness or absence of the rights of certain social groups, including women and children. It is crucial, therefore, that responses take into account these specific vulnerabilities, which requires a level of targeting that is able respond to specific needs. This includes protecting children from malnutrition, strengthening their rights of women and by offering them greater economic opportunities to allow them to strengthen their resilience to future crises. In order to protect children from these shocks, and from malnutrition, it is crucial to specifically target women so that they can meet their needs, look after their children and build their economic opportunities, which will also help build resilience for future crises. The immediate need is to support access to essential food and non-food needs in order to prevent people selling their assets to buy food, in addition to ensuring access to safe water and promoting good hygiene practices at community level to reduce the risk of diarrhoeal diseases and malnutrition.  As the lean season progresses, 16  there will be a need for increased food assistance, including through cash or vouchers where there is good availability and access to markets, and to ensure a good network of malnutrition treatment centres. Preparation to support productive activities is also crucial in advance of the first rains, expected before June, to help people recover. Producers need seeds, fertilizer, tools and food to be ready to start working in their fields, and pastoralists need to have maintained, vaccinated and de-wormed their animals in order for them to be fit enough for the start of the rainy season It is important to provide assistance not only in areas of srcins, or in areas of deficit, but also to meet the needs of those who have moved in search of income opportunities or food, or water and pasture for their animals, and who often gather in very precarious conditions. Conflict in northern Mali provides a major challenge to the food crisis response, creating additional humanitarian burdens and greatly complicating efforts to provide sufficient humanitarian assistance. Even before the coup d’état of 22 nd  March, 3.5 million people were threatened by the food crisis, a situation which has dramatically worsened. In the north of Mali, now controlled by a range of armed groups, many basic social services have ground to a halt, water and electricity is limited as fuel stocks run low, availability of food has been significantly reduced, and where food is available prices are significantly higher than pre-crisis levels. Insecurity has also meant that few humanitarian organisations have been able to provide assistance to vulnerable communities.  As a result, the north of Mali is now classified as being in ‘extreme’ food insecurity, and concerns have been expressed by regional stakeholders that pockets of famine could develop current conditions persist 17 . Given the lack of security and basic services, many families have moved from towns into villages, or have fled to neighbouring countries. In all OCHA estimates that over 340,000 people have been displaced since late January 2012, 18  and assessments show that displaced people have urgent humanitarian needs, while the movement of populations to already food-insecure zones risks greatly aggravating food insecurity for host families.
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