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Sahel: How Swift Action Saved Lives And Livelihoods

Sahel: How Swift Action Saved Lives And Livelihoods 1

Like many countries across the Sahel region, Senegal has felt the impact of climate change. Rainfall levels have dropped and the rainy season has become less predictable.  As the salinization of soil has increased, groundwater reserves have fallen and once fertile agricultural land lies barren, threatening the food security of hundreds of thousands of people living in marginal areas.

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During the 2012 drought, Community Volunteers like Abdoulaye Faye from the village of Sania helped to identify the most vulnerable households.  “When the hunger came, it was like an illness,” he recalls. “When the food arrived, it was like the doctor.”  ECHO funds were used in Senegal to help the World Food Programme transport and distribute a donation of 8,800 metric tons of rice from Brazil, ensuring it reached 907,000 people for a three month period at the height of the lean season.

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“The rice came at a moment when we had no food in the village,” said Deoulde Sow, the President of the rural community group from Passkoto village. “When the rains fail, all of the people in this area are affected.  If it doesn’t rain, the villagers have to leave their land and migrate to towns where they look for work.”

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Djenabou Diallo, a mother of ten children from Paskopo was among those who were helped by the ECHO donation.  Before the rice came, she says she and her family were surviving by eating a watery soup and wild dates that her husband gathered in a nearby forest.  With ECHO’s support, WFP distributed rice, cooking oil and salt at the peak of the hunger season.  “After the rice came, we made soup with peanuts, rice and sauce,” Djenabou recalls.

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Keeping farmers on their land and helping them to avoid the sale of vital assets such as cattle was a priority during the 2012 drought.  WFP provided food assistance to 1.1 million people in Senegal and ECHO’s support played a critical role in the humanitarian response across the Sahel region.

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“You don’t dig a well when you are thirsty,” says Cyprien Fabre, Head of ECHO’s Regional office in Dakar, explaining that effective humanitarian intervention comes before a drought is allowed to become a crisis.  Early identification of food shortages in the Sahel region and swift action by ECHO and its partners meant that resources were mobilised quickly in 2012.  Lives were saved and livelihoods preserved.

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The positive impact of ECHO’s support for the 2012 Sahel emergency operation is now evident in the faces of smallholder farmers who are now back in their fields, reaping harvests that have improved with better rainfall this year.  But in spite of last year’s aid effort, 10.8 million people remain food insecure across the Sahel and 1.4 million children are at risk of dying from severe acute malnutrition.

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It is inevitable that drought will return to the Sahel region in the not too distant future.  In an effort to stop the endless cycle of crises, the European Commission has forged the Global Alliance for Resilience Initiative (AGIR-Sahel), bringing together governments, donors, and humanitarian organisations to strive towards a “Zero Hunger” goal within the next twenty years.

Senegal in West Africa sits on the edge of the Sahel, a region that straddles the continent, separating the dry Sahara Desert to the north from marginal pastoral and agricultural land to the south.  Even in years when the rains are regular and arrive on time, life in the Sahel region is tough with one in five children dying before their fifth birthday.  Last year, Senegal was one of 7 countries that received food assistance funded by a Euro 3.8 million donation from ECHO that supported the work of the World Food Programme.  The impact of this humanitarian intervention can be measured in lives saved, and the increased resilience of people in villages across Senegal as they brace themselves for the onset of the 2013 hunger season.