Entitled ‘Learning the Lessons?’, the report looks at how the 2012 food crisis across the Sahel was handled. The authors conclude that the response by the region’s governments, donors and aid agencies was better than in previous crises, with momentum growing around the concept of building long-term resilience.
Nevertheless, millions of people did not receive the assistance they needed. This means that in 2013, many families are struggling to feed themselves and rebuild their livelihoods, with around 10 million people across the Sahel regions still in need of help.
In Chad, for example, at the height of the food crisis, women in some areas resorted to digging in anthills in order to find grain. One woman explained that this practice had not been necessary for “a very long time”. In some communities of the Guéra region, local yields had been so low, that growers only produced enough food to last them for two months of the year, leaving ten months of no food stocks before the next harvests could be started at the end of 2012.
The hardship of families in Chad and across the Sahel region was further exacerbated by soaring food prices. Many of the poorest households rely on local markets for food and higher prices made it impossible for families to buy adequate supplies. The lives of more than 1 million children were put at risk from malnutrition.
Research suggests that children in female-headed households are particularly vulnerable. A survey conducted by the government of Chad in the Barh el Gazel region found that nearly 80% of female-headed households suffered from food insecurity compared with less than half of male-headed ones. One Chadian widow explained “A lot of men leave the village....[to] find jobs. But a poor woman like me does not have these opportunities. My children and I are at the mercy of the crisis”.
Early warning systems are beginning to alert governments and agencies to impending food shortages, so that interventions can be made before situations become full-blown crises. And agencies have also been focusing their efforts on the poorest and most vulnerable populations in the Sahelian band. However, Oxfam’s report acknowledges that much more needs to be done, particularly in areas such as the provision of seeds, tools and fertilisers to help communities recover for the next harvest. In the case of Chad, the report’s authors also stress that more needs to be done by the government to address rising inequality. The discovery of oil is helping to boost the country’s economic growth, but the report concludes that so far this has “yet to make a significant difference for the majority of the population”.