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Crisis prevention remains a major challenge in West Africa

Source: OXFAM

16 December 2010 - Oxfam and Bilital Maroobe urge the international community: Act now and differently

This year, 10 million people were affected by the Sahel food crisis and pastoral populations have been the most affected. On average, 18.3% of the population in Niger, Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso are undernourished. This figure rises to 37% for Chad.

In this context, Bilital Maroobe and international agency Oxfam warn: “We should not wait another major food crisis to start acting.” Given the rapid expansion and recurrence of the crises and the inadequate responses of policy makers and other actors, it is necessary to rethink the strategies to be implemented in order to respond to these recurring disasters in West Africa.

Dodo Boureima, Permanent Technical Secretary of Bilital Maroobe Network, said: “We have to be prepared to act now by learning from the consequences of previous humanitarian disasters and, above all, by adapting responses to specific needs and taking into account the expertise of local people, including pastoral people.”

“As the deep roots of those crises are structural, it is before, during and after the crisis that we need to act to fight against hunger and malnutrition in the Sahel,” said Etienne Du Vachat, author of the briefing note "Hunger in the Sahel: a permanent emergency?" and Humanitarian Coordinator for Oxfam in Niger.

For both organizations, crisis prevention remains a major challenge in West Africa.

To avoid that more droughts turn into humanitarian disasters, both organizations warn the national political stakeholders and international community to make agriculture, pastoralism and food issues a budget priority, supported by stable and predictable aid.

Therefore, the two organizations have challenged national policy makers by highlighting development policies and programs that should include contingency in anticipation of years of poor harvests. This new approach should start with agricultural and food policies. It is imperative for these countries not only to implement ECOWAP, the regional agricultural policy of ECOWAS, but also to translate into actions the commitments they made in Maputo to devote 10% of their national budgets to agricultural investment.

As a result, Oxfam and Bilital Maroobe strongly insist that institutions and states should provide quality and detailed information that is available in time to respond, in a targeted, tailored and coordinated way, to the needs of the populations during crises. In a similar vein, it is also crucial for authorities to recognize crises where they exist. This recognition must be first based on a correct interpretation of the information relayed by Early Warning Systems across the countries.

In the Sahel, 80% of households spend 80% of their budget on food. Yet, according to WFP, 38.6% of households in Niger were in debt in April 2010. Therefore, building local and community capacity in terms of prevention, preparedness and response to crises should be a priority in so far as it would help Sahelian communities depend less on foreign aid, which is often too late and inadequate.

Mamadou Biteye, Oxfam Humanitarian Regional Director in West Africa, said: “Women have an important role to play in preventing crises in the Sahel, and cash transfers and food stamps to the poorest households would be good solutions to vulnerability and malnutrition.”