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One Year After The Sahel Crisis, WFP Executive Director Visits Burkina Faso

WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin speaks at Mentao refugee site, dressed in traditional cloth offered to her by the women of the camp. Photo/Daouda Ouedraogo

WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin visited Burkina Faso this month to look at the situation in the West African country one year after the region was hit by a severe food and nutrition crisis. WFP reached some 1.5 million people in Burkina with emergency food assistance as part of its response to  the region-wide Sahel crisis. For Burkina the effects of drought were compounded by an influx of Malian refugees fleeing conflict in their country.

OUAGADOUGOU -- Though this year’s harvest is much improved compared to last year’s, the food security situation in Burkina Faso remains fragile.

“The Sahel is facing a double threat: instability, caused by a conflict that has sent refugees across its borders and chronic hunger, caused by cycles of drought and poor harvests. Last year the international community helped avert a crisis in the Sahel, but our work is not over,” Ertharin Cousin said during her visit, the first by a WFP Executive Director since 1998. 

Upon invitation by President Blaise Compaoré, Cousin met with the President, Ministers, the donor and humanitarian community as well as the WFP country office in Ouagadougou on the first day.

The following day, the ED traveled to the Sahel Region of Burkina Faso, accompanied by WFP’s Burkina Faso Country Director, the West Africa Regional Director, the Minister of Education, several UN Agency Representatives, and the Coordinator of the National Refugee Council.

As well as having some of the highest malnutrition and food insecurity rates in the country, the Sahel Region hosts 95 percent of the Malian refugees in Burkina Faso.

First, Cousin and the delegation visited the Mentao refugee site, the largest site in Burkina Faso, where a monthly food distribution was taking place. Next, the delegation visited a local Burkinab√© school, where refugee children are hosted and receive two meals per day through WFP’s school feeding programme and then, a Cash for Assets activity, focusing on refugee host communities and through which WFP hopes to rehabilitate 125 hectares of soil with the half-moon technique, which traps humidity in the soil, making it more arable.

“It is not a matter of ‘if’ there will be a drought, but ‘when’. If we continue to follow through with what we started last year, we can truly build resilience in the Sahel,” said Cousin referring to such programmes.

Then, Cousin visited a health centre, where WFP carries out moderate acute malnutrition activities for children under 5 years old and pregnant and nursing women. At all sites, Cousin had the opportunity to talk directly with beneficiaries, hearing their concerns.

On the way to catch her plane to Mali from the town of Ouahigouya in the North Region, the ED visited the local NGO AMMIE, with whom WFP implemented a gender advocacy initiative in 2012 and carries out food assistance for people living with HIV as well as AIDS orphans.

In 2013, WFP urgently needs US$ 36 million for its activities in Burkina Faso.