DAKAR (AlertNet) – Aid agencies have been appealing for humanitarian assistance to save the lives of between 8 and 11 million people who are facing hunger across eight countries in the Sahel region of West Africa.
While calling on donors to produce the $725 million the United Nations (U.N.) says is needed for the response to the crisis, several aid groups have initiated schemes to bring relief to hundreds of thousands of people.
The aid groups are focusing on cash initiatives and protective programmes such as market gardens, seed distribution and the repair of water points.
“The Sahel region is in need of more than emergency food aid,” says Rheal Drisdelle, the head of the children’s charity Plan International in Niger. “Building up the resilience of the region to future droughts, and thereby gradually reducing the need for outside assistance, is critical,” he added.
Here are facts and figures on the effort undertaken by some aid groups in the region to respond to the food crisis so far.
* U.N. World Food Programme (WFP): WFP has initiated a new system to purchase food stocks in advance of donor funding. The agency has thus been able to purchase and pre-position 62,000 metric tonnes of commodities including nutrition supplements, which is enough to feed 4 million people for a month, according Josette Sheeran, the head of WFP. The agency says it has supported 556,000 people in Niger through food-for-work and cash-for-work activities in the worst affected areas in the country and that it has provided support to improve nutrition for 760,000 people.
* Catholic Relief Services (CRS): CRS has diverted some resources from its development programmes to support respond to the food shortages particularly in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger.
“We decided to allocate 10 percent of the resources to take care of people who are destitute, women headed households, most vulnerable community members,” said Jean Marie Adrian, CRS regional director for West Africa.
The relief agency has also started cash-for-work activities where people are employed to create community assets.
“In Niger, for instance, it means a working group of 5-6 people would build soil and water conservation structures like dykes to improve the soil and they are paid per day. This money would enable them to buy food given that food prices are high and they have lost their crops and livelihoods.
* World Vision: The relief organisation, which plans to reach 1.7 million people with relief in the countries where it operates in West Africa, is already running food-for-work and cash-for-work schemes, assisting cereal banks, and handing out seeds in Niger. It is also running child nutrition programmes, monitoring and treating children who are suffering from malnutrition and educating parents to ensure that they keep their children healthy.
“Our objective with the emergency response is to stabilize the situation so that it does not get any worse and it sets up a platform by which we can do longer term work so that we build up community resilience to these types of disasters, and do not always have to do an emergency response,” said Paul Sitnam, the West Africa director for emergency hiumanitarian affairs at World Vision.
“World Vision is digging boreholes for better water access. We’re helping communities to grow vegetable gardens. The gardens allow families not only to have access to fresh, nutrient rich produce during lean times, but it also generates income as they can sell their surplus,” Sitnam added.
World Vision is also looking at vaccinating livestock, so they do not die of common diseases, educating communities on basic disaster risk reduction, and assisting with projects that increase the community’s opportunities to earn cash.
* OXFAM: In Mauritania’s Gorgol region, 1.300 women, are benefiting from irrigation systems that pump water from a river for their vegetable gardens as part of cooperatives supported by Oxfam. The aid agency is also finalising the list of beneficiary villages for its other relief schemes that are set to kick off this month, said Charles Bambara the Regional Communications Officer for Oxfam.
Oxfam has also launched cash for work programmes in Niger and Burkina Faso. It is preparing to scale up its response in Chad’s Guéra Region, from 45.000 beneficiaries to 60.300 in February and 100.000 in May. The aim is to cover all households whose survival is threatened by the food shortages, and if possible, include also those whose livelihoods are at risk, Bambara said.
* Plan International: Plan’s emergency response will be implemented in two departments in Niger - Tillaberi and Dosso. Tillaberi region is ranked as the most affected area in the country and the malnutrition rates in Dosso are also very high.
Plan has undertaken several activities including small off-season gardening initiatives. This project supports people living along the river Niger and near dams to cultivate crops in the off-season, and is benefitting about 2,000 women and their families in twenty villages.
* U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO): The FAO has been implementing activities to build resilience of pastoralists, agro-pastoralists and farmers with the distribution of agricultural inputs, food and veterinary products for livestock to enhance income generating activities.
* U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF): UNICEF has been purchasing and positioning in various countries ready-to-use therapeutic food which is the main tool for treating severe and acute malnutrition. The agency estimates that more than one million children under-5 will need treatment for severe acute malnutrition in the Sahel. It says it needs $67 million to respond to immediate needs of children for the first half of 2012.
(Editing by Julie Mollins)