One voice for the Sahel: Communities, UN Agencies, NGOs & other partners
working together for a response to the Sahel crisis/ Une voix pour le Sahel: Communautés, agences des NU, ONGs et partenaires travaillant ensemble pour une réponse à la crise du Sahel
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Resilience wasn’t built in a day
By Anouk Delafortrie, Regional Information Officer for West Africa, ECHO
Upon interviewing Lenli Traoré, a small farmer in Tapoa, the easternmost province of Burkina Faso, about how his family will be coping after the failed harvest he pulls a faded photo from his breast pocket. “Paguidamba”, he explains, “was one year old when she died. She was ill and became malnourished. We waited too long to seek medical help.” The loss of his daughter five years ago has left Lenli mourning, prompting him to share the fading depiction of the girl with a big belly so as to keep her memory alive. Touched by his gesture, I come to appreciate the true value of him cherishing his lastborn Dieudonné which he tenderly holds while his wife Kanlafé prepares the family meal.
At only 7 months Dieudonné has already been seriously ill twice during the rainy season, first measles, then malaria. And luckily, this time, his mother had been included as a beneficiary of Action Against Hunger’s cash transfer programme in the region. Although initially meant as a form of food assistance, Kanlafé spent almost her entire last instalment on medical bills for Dieudonné. But the family is happy to have had the possibility to seek care immediately. Most of the 75€ that Kanlafé received in 5 instalments during the ‘lean season’, the hardest months of the year when food and water become scarce, were used to buy food and condiments as well as soap for their family of nine.
There is no silver bullet to solving the erosion of coping mechanisms which a decade of food crises, shifting climate patterns and increasing food prices have brought upon many families of the Sahel like the Traoré’s. The European Commission’s humanitarian aid department ECHO has been supporting various resilience-building pilot programmes, ranging from seasonal cash transfers for poor households to subsidised health care for the most vulnerable, which could make a real difference if combined and scaled up at the national level.
“Humanitarian aid has its limits,” says ECHO’s head of office in Burkina Faso Eric Pitois. “Our goal is to save lives, and undertake some preventative action. But we have to go further now and encourage donors and governments to commit to long-term policies that will lift these people out of extreme poverty.”
Resilience wasn’t built in a dayLooking at all that is being achieved in regions where pilot programmes are running, their immense potential becomes apparent. In 5 of the 63 Burkinabe sanitary districts, ECHO funds programmes to ensure free health care for children under five, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. The results are spectacular in that the average number of visits to health centres by mothers and children has multiplied many times over. This, in turn, is a blessing when striving to prevent children from becoming severely malnourished and dying from lack of care.
“Every year at the time of harvest, when parents are busy in the fields, the number of severely malnourished children admitted with medical complications increases,” says Action Against Hunger’s Dr. Issa Sawadogo who provides technical support for the treatment of severe acute malnutrition in Tapoa’s provincial hospital. “Children suffer the most when families don’t manage to be food self-sufficient. Malnutrition really needs to be considered as a public health priority and the solutions should not only come from NGOs.”
Brought together under an initiative to build resilience in the Sahel and West Africa – AGIR or the Global Alliance for Resilience Initiative – Dr. Issa’s point of view is gaining ground. The realization that increased agricultural production alone will not suffice to feed an exponentially growing population is sinking in. Infrastructure works and optimizing agricultural outputs can be extremely useful, but if there is one thing that humanitarians in this region are demonstrating, it is that investing in policies which shield the most vulnerable families, who are likely to benefit little from these works and agriculture schemes, from ‘falling in deeper’ is needed at the same time.
“Now is indeed the time to take action,” agrees Burkina Faso’s minister of agriculture Mahama Zoungrana. “Resilience should not be a single-sector effort, because it is a multi-disciplinary issue. We need to build on the best practices we’ve seen throughout the years and pull them together in AGIR so as to build long-term programmes that will allow our people to live in dignity.”
When asked about this year’s harvest, Lenli replied that the stock of cereals will only cover the family’s needs for 6 months. Alone in his field, shedding blood, sweat and tears to keep his family alive, one realizes it is not by lack of determination nor hard work that fathers like him come to lose their children, but by lack of a safety net.
AGIR aims to achieve zero hunger in West Africa by 2032. Rome wasn’t built in a day – and neither will resilience -, but building it on the right foundations can prevent the edifice from collapsing.