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Burkina Faso and Niger are two of the nine countries that make up the Sahel, an eco-climactic zone that stretches across the southern belt of the Sahara Desert. The countries of the Sahel are among the poorest in the world, and they suffer from weak government capacity, chronic poverty, and food insecurity. In Burkina Faso and Niger, the vast majority of the population is engaged in subsistence agriculture and thus highly vulnerable to weather variability, drought, and desertification. As a result, they are considered to be among the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change.
Current Humanitarian Situation
Poor rainfall, low agricultural output, and high food prices in 2011 and 2012 have led to a food crisis across the Sahel that has affected close to 20 million people and put one million children at risk of starvation. The current crisis comes on the heels of droughts in 2005 and 2010, which rendered households more vulnerable and left them with fewer coping mechanisms. Compounding the region’s problems, in January 2012, armed conflict broke out in Mali when Tuareg separatists and an Islamic militant group linked to Al Qaeda took control of large areas of northern Mali, forcing thousands to flee their homes.
Since then, the situation in Mali has deteriorated. Rebel groups have consolidated their control of the north, leaving most of that part of the country inaccessible to aid agencies. Meanwhile, a coup in the capital Bamako in March, followed by an uncertain transition to civilian rule, has effectively created a power-vacuum.
As of mid-2012, over 460,000 Malians had been displaced, including more than 280,000 who have sought refuge in neighboring countries such as Burkina Faso (more than 100,000), Mauritania (close to 97,000), and Niger (more than 50,000). Continued violence and intimidation by armed actors in northern Mali, the inability of humanitarian actors to access affected areas, and the worsening humanitarian situation, are all forcing more Malians to flee and closing off the possibility of return in the near future.
In May 2012, RI conducted a field mission to Niger and Burkina Faso to assess the immediate needs of Malian refugees, as well as the impact of the Mali crisis on broader food problems. Since then, RI has advocated for better protection of Malians refugees, and called on the U.S., EU, and other donors to increase funding for life-saving assistance like food, water, and shelter. RI is also urging the UN Refugee Agency to add regional protection staff to assist vulnerable groups. Of particular concern are refugee children, the vast majority of whom lack access to education or other child protection services.
In addition, RI is pressing donors to increase support for local communities hosting refugee populations. These communities are among those hardest hit by the recent food crisis, and the arrival of tens of thousands of refugees (along with their livestock) has put significant, additional pressure on already scarce local resources such as water, food, and vegetation.
Mali’s current crisis must be seen in the context of far broader and more complex regional challenges, including increased climate variability, explosive population growth, and growing insecurity. While responding to current humanitarian needs remains the priority, RI is urging national governments and donors to adopt a long-term strategy for preventing and managing these recurrent crises. Most current projects aimed at making vulnerable populations more resilient to climate or food price shocks are not sufficient to overcome the countervailing pressures of environmental degradation, climate change, and population growth. Going forward, funding for such programs must be scaled up and linked to longer-term development goals. Initiatives to increase resiliency in the Sahel such as the recently-launched Partnership for Resilience to Food Crises in the Sahel (AGIR), provide an important framework in this regard and should be supported.
Recurrent climate-related shocks in West Africa’s Sahel region are having severe impacts on vulnerable populations. Increasingly, those unable to feed themselves or their families have no option but to leave their villages, resorting to new forms of migration that bring with them serious protection risks. New resilience-building initiatives launched by regional bodies, the United Nations, and donors have the potential to begin to tackle the root causes of these populations’ vulnerabilities. However, a lack of coherence and coordination is seriously threatening the effectiveness of these initiatives. With implementation still in the initial stages, there is a window of opportunity to address these shortcomings before significant time and resource commitments are made.
Les chocs récurrents liés au climat dans la région Ouest-Africaine du Sahel ont des impacts conséquents sur les populations vulnérables. De plus en plus, ceux qui n’ont pas les capacités de se nourrir ou de nourrir leurs familles n’ont d’autre option que de quitter leurs villages, en ayant recours à de nouvelles formes de migration auxquelles sont associés d’important risques en matière de protection. De nouvelles initiatives de résilience lancées par des organismes régionaux, les Nations Unies, et les bailleurs de fonds pourraient s’attaquer aux causes profondes de la vulnérabilité de ces populations. Cependant, un manque de cohérence et de coordination menace considérablement l’efficacité de ces initiatives. Leur mise en œuvre en étant encore à son stade initial, il est encore temps de remédier à ces déficiences avant que ne soient pris des engagements significatifs en temps et en ressources.