WHD 2013

Friday, September 28, 2012

Next stop: Resilience

 by David Gressly, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel


This week, I have attended  the opening of the High-Level event on the Sahel in New York.  It has been a difficult year for the people in the Sahel, but we have been able to contain the food and nutrition crisis thanks to an early and generous donor response. The situation has improved. While 18 million people are still affected, most communities across the Sahel are now receiving appropriate support.  Partners have scaled up the general food distribution and nutrition assistance since the beginning of the lean season in July.

With the onset of abundant rains, there is now a prospect for good harvests in 2012.  If all goes well, this will be positive news for 2013.In the meantime, however, we need to maintain our momentum to get through this crisis. And for this to happen, we still need to ensure sufficient funding for sectors critical to the response, such as water, education, and the needs of Malian refugees and IDPs.

2013 is key

This is the time to tackle the chronic structural problems that we see across the Sahel. Even in a good year with plentiful rains, a quarter million children will die of malnutrition unless the structural problems are also addressed. That is why we are pushing, with many other partners and governments, an agenda on resilience to increase the capacity of these same households to absorb the shocks of drought and high prices.  As a result, they will be better positioned every year to deal with the kind of stress that exists in the Sahel.

Building resilience 


People in the Sahel are by nature extremely resilient individuals, but this is a tough environment. The first key will be to work with communities to rebuild after the 2012 crisis.  This means restocking and making sure they have the right seed to re-establish their livelihoods. And longer term requires long improvement in agricultural productivity, linked to better water management for example. Social Safety nets will be important aspects to ensure that everybody has good access to food. In addition to that, it will be critical to support  programs that promote nutrition and health services to control diseases such as cholera and vaccination for children .

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Resilience- beyond the buzzword

Katie Seaborn, Information and Communications Officer at NGO Save the Children, reports from Mali on the need for assistance that contributes to build resilience.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Humanitarian Reform transforming knowledge

by Ton van Zutphen, Food Security Facilitator at the OCHA Sahel Team  


Attending workshop on Humanitarian Reform in Burkina Faso on the 20th and 21st of September

  It is always a good start when a workshop 'request' comes from the field. In this case from the Humanitarian Coordinator, the OCHA staff, and various Partners in Burkina Faso. One would think that after some six years plus, the humanitarian world would now 'master' the finesses of the humanitarian reform agenda. Well, apparently not and there are reasons for that. Here are a few clear ones...such as the turnover in staff that work for humanitarian agencies in the field (where the action takes place). It remains very high. This turnover is often caused by short term contracts, at times no funding for project budgets, or simply very challenging situations. Many aid workers do show some of the 'policy acceptance fatigue' since think-tanks and strategy departments of their employers continue to churn out new concepts to be tested in the field.

The humanitarian reform though is really, da vero!, different! It came, stayed...and is likely never to go away...or perhaps phrased better: it is to remain with us aid workers, and seemingly transforms itself as it continues its path of evolution. The flavors of the reform change and these days it is about coordination, leadership and accountability. The Humanitarian Coordinator asked us, the three facilitators (Niels Scott, Gwyn Lewis and myself), to throw in the cluster component as well. The positive suprise was that over 30 particpants from the UN family, government and NGO partners decided it was worthwhile enough to participate in debates on how we can all shape the reform better in Burkina Faso.

We were able to clarify the essential humanitarian coordination structures that are operational, we heard the government's suggestions for more inclusion; we fileted the cluster concept and came to grip with the nuances between cluster and sector...and we managed to have all participants speaking and keeping the time somehow. We were able to navigate through the workshop by changing a few agenda items. I think the three facilitators loved to see that they were still able to change pre-conceived agendas. Just like in a real humanitarian setting: change when it is required.

Perhaps a conclusion...workshops may have a better result when suggested by the particpants themselves and when the faciliators come from various agencies and are able to adjust the agenda and respond to those themes that are of prime interest to the audience.

Building the buffer- helping families into the future

by Katie Seaborne, Save the Children (Bamako, Mali)

We are not yet over the worst here in Mali but the end is in sight. The rains have been pouring heavily for the past month – meaning animals can drink at water-points again and the land has turned from a red dirt to a luscious green. Predictions for this year’s harvest are good and in the coming weeks all hands will be on deck to plough the fields.

Despite this hopeful outlook, sadly our teams here know that families in this region will continue to be plunged into life-threatening hunger crises unless we take more decisive and longer-sighted action and tackle the underlying causes.

As a result ‘resilience’ has become the buzz word of this crisis –meaning families need to be supported all year around so that they have enough of a buffer to survive in times of crisis. But turning that rhetoric into action is the hard part. Save the Children teams have been working across the Sahel region of West Africa since the beginning of the year and have now reached over a million people. Thankfully our teams are well-placed to support families to recover from this crisis and to be resistant to being thrown back into crisis in the future.

Recently I made long and bumpy 5 hour journey from Bamako, the capital of Mali to Kayes region in the West of the country where Save the Children teams are working around the clock in response to the crisis. Kayes has been one of the hardest hit regions –over 38,000 children have been admitted into health centres to receive treatment for acute malnutrition so far this year. It’s swelteringly hot and with the recent downpours the landscape has changed dramatically- fields are flush with crops and barren trees have flourished. Mud huts with straw roofs scatter the landscape and the oxen pull the wooden ploughs, creating perfect furrows in their wake. Yes I know peaceful rural scenes mask a deeper, more tragic reality for the communities here.

Save the Children teams have been delivering life-saving assistance to families in this region since earlier this year. We know that handing out food packages may save a life that week, but will not save a life in the longer term. For that reason we have been finding innovative ways to support families’ ability to earn an income, including vouchers that entitle them to animal fodder or seeds in the local markets. One of the people who received this help was Sayon.  I met Sayon in his village, under the shade of a tree. Wearing a simple blue robe, with greying hair and a deeply lined face, Sayon has a calming, wise quality.  As he explained his precarious livelihood and the devastating consequence that had on his family, I realised his situation perfectly demonstrates the ongoing and underlying causes of this crisis.

“I live in this village- I have lived here all my life. I live with my two wives and eleven children. I am a farmer and always have been - I farm sorghum, millet and corn, which are the main things we all eat here. We eat everything I grow – we cannot sell any of it for money because we need all of it to eat.”

Sayon continued to quietly talk about his livelihood and means of survival, explaining how the minute his crops are at risk – their lives are at risk. I could see Sayon’s neighbours’ and friends’ heads nodding in agreement.

“I grew only a third of what I usually grow this year. This is because the rains were not strong enough. The food ran out quickly and I had to do other things to get us by, for example I helped out other families in the village – helping them in their fields or homes with odd jobs. The impact on the family was that we lacked enough to eat. I could just about provide two meals a day – other families had to help us out. Three of my children had to leave in search of work and food- they are 40, 30 and 22 years old.  They send money back to us occasionally. During the dry season they go into the bush and cut down trees for fire wood, to sell. I also have two children suffering from malnutrition – they were diagnosed by the community health worker as malnourished. They are receiving treatment from the nearest health post.”

The instant and severe impacts echo those that have been felt by thousands of families across the Sahel – the most vulnerable members of the family- the children under five - becoming malnourished, the older children leaving home to find work, the father searching the local villages for any opportunity to make money. His family had been torn apart by hunger.

I asked Sayon about the assistance he had received from Save the Children and he started to speak more confidently and positively,

‘I own two horses, two oxen and three goats. One of the horses nearly died as it wasn’t getting enough food – he was very thin and very sick. But after receiving the animal fodder vouchers, we could feed him and he is recovering. The oxen were also not moving as they were so weak. But we also could feed them with the help from Save the Children and now they are recovering also. You see, the animals must be strong and healthy to plough the fields – otherwise it’s impossible for us to plough the fields and feed ourselves. I was very worried about how we were going to take care of the animals and how they were going to survive. I really like the voucher system – I am very happy to receive the vouchers. Otherwise it would have been a catastrophe.”

I could see the impact this innovative assistance was having on Sayon’s ability to earn a living and pull his family back from the brink of disaster. Thankfully, our teams have been able to deliver this support to over 3,500 people and we are continuing to deliver this support. However, we know that our life-saving activities are not enough. We must support families, like Sayon’s, past the harvest, past the end of the year and into the future. Only then are we living up to our mission to do our best for children in this region.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Fighting Double Impact of Malnutrition and Malaria in Niger

by Halimatou Amadou, Médecins sans frontières (MSF)

A food crisis is affecting an estimated 18 million people across Africa's Sahel region right now, including in Niger, where four million children are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition, with at least one million at risk of developing severe acute malnutrition.

At the same time, 80 percent of children who come to Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) clinics in Niger test positive for malaria. MSF is trying to reach those who need help the most. Go to www.doctorswithoutborders.org for more information.

The rains have arrived - bringing both hope and devastation

By Kate Cunningham, Save the Children (Burkina Faso)

We had wished for rains. They represented the only hope of watering the dry land, of feeding this year’s crops and of alleviating the crippling food crisis caused by last year’s drought.  As the rains began to fall a month ago, we knew our hopes had been answered – however, the heavy rainfall is now having worrying consequences on the people of Burkina Faso and Save the Children’s humanitarian response.

My name is Kate and I work as part of the emergency response team here in Burkina Faso. Burkina Faso is one of the countries affected by the Sahel food crisis –over 2 million people are currently affected here at the moment. To make matters worse over 100,000 refugees have flooded into the country in the past few months - seeking relative safety from the conflict in Mali. Many of the refugees are living in camps. Our team has now been responding to this double crisis since the beginning of the year and has now provided life saving and sustaining assistance to over 100,000 vulnerable children and their families.

Hard to reach people

Two weeks ago I travelled to Kaya in the Centre North of Burkina Faso with our emergency teams to identify the most vulnerable families who would be receiving cash grants to help them through the hardest months of the lean season. The night before our trip was planned it poured with rain, and the next morning the team knew we may not be able to access the villages. We drove four hours from the capital, Ouagadougou, and twice we crossed huge dips in the road that were so flooded, people wading through were up to their hips in water. We were only 10 miles away from our first village when we came to a third dip in the road where the water was so deep it would have flooded the car had we tried to pass. We had no choice but to turn back and drive all the way back to Ouagadougou. Fortunately since then the team were able to return a few days later and has now done the first cash distribution.

Save the Children is also working in Gandafabou refugee camp – a camp created this year to house the influx of refugees from Mali.  Our teams have been finding it increasingly difficult to reach the camp, cutting off refugees from essential services. These families have already suffered huge hardships, fleeing their country, witnessing violence, leaving all their belongings behind and not knowing what the future holds for them. Luckily, Save the Children has managed, despite the rains, to set up temporary learning spaces where primary school children are taking catch-up classes and in October will start the new school year.

Limited access to life-saving services

Another impact of the rains has been that mothers are unable to reach the health facilities in their time of most need. Mothers told our team members that during the rainy season it is very difficult for them to access the health clinics - this means they sometimes do not bring their children in for malnutrition treatment and health care, despite the increase in malaria and waterborne diseases during the rains.

Continued rains crucial for a good harvest

Despite the rains bringing many challenges - they are critical ensure the crops grow and the people do not face another year of crisis. If the rains fail, even for just one week, harvests will be damaged and there is a risk the food crisis will continue.

However, even if the rains are good the most vulnerable families in Burkina Faso will still need support. Our teams found that many of the poorest households have already sold off this year’s harvest to pay off their debts, as they were forced to borrow cash to buy food to survive the drought over the past year.  Save the Children in Burkina Faso is appealing for $13m and is less than half funded – our teams desperately need more money to be able to reach these families affected by the rains and the ongoing food crisis.   
g food crisis.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Finding the Poorest of the Poor in Chad

 By Helen Blakesley, Catholic Relief Services (CRS)


Before I set off on each ‘intrepid’ journey in the name of CRS, I always flick through my guidebook to Africa. It was next stop Chad, in Central Africa, north of Cameroon and west of the Sudans. As my eyes alighted on the correct page, they were drawn to these words: “Wave goodbye to your comfort zone and say hello to Chad”. Gulp. It got worse. “Chad is Africa for the hardcore. This is an experience you will never forget”. Blimey.

As the plane made its descent to N’Djamena airport the balmy night of my arrival, I looked down onto the flat rooftops and street lights we passed. Was that falling rain lit up by each lamp head? No. That was swarms of crickets and other bugs dancing frenetically in the pools of light.

And they continued their welcome as we made our way into the airport and waited for our passports to be stamped. Locusts swooping, to settle on shoulders, in hair, on pant legs, or to be brushed off hastily by a skittish traveler. A little girl shrieked as she pointed to a large black unidentifiable beastie with scarab-like pincers, poised on my shoe. I’m very glad she did.

I soon started to see what the guidebook meant about ‘hardcore’, and I hadn’t even made it out of the capital city. For most ex pats, life in N’Djamena is a life lived behind compound walls. Houses, offices, restaurants are manned by guards, some are topped with barbed wire fences and visitors checked over with metal detectors. Armed soldiers are a common sight, especially along the road of the presidential palace (where, I was informed, if you stop your car they will shoot in the air to make you move along!)

Getting stuff done in N’Djamena isn’t the easiest feat either. There’s the heat and humidity, social norms to be respected, and red tape that has a whole extra kink in it, compared to other places I’ve visited. But despite all this, CRS staff members at the N’Djamena office (loyally guarded, or should I say wagged at, by a feisty dog called Babette) go above and beyond to put CRS projects into practice.
It turned out that the papers I needed to leave the capital and travel east to visit these projects didn’t arrive in time. A civil service strike meant the man who usually signs them wasn’t there. So, I was transported instead through conversation, as CRS staff spoke passionately about their work with the poorest of the poor.

Talking with Katie, a young project manager from the States, (and my dinner buddy for the trip), I heard about remote villages out East which are more akin to the Wild West. Surrounded by desert, living in such isolation, many of the people there have no other way to earn money than the crops they grow. And this year has been especially hard. The last cereal harvest was down by 50 percent. For many, food supplies ran out as early as January. Unrest in neighboring countries (Libya, the Sudans, Nigeria) has taken away the chance of seasonal work abroad for fathers, husbands and brothers. Throw into the mix a couple of hundred thousand refugees from Darfur, who fled to Chad to escape violence, but who admittedly put extra pressure on the region’s resources.

So, CRS stepped in with a program aimed at helping 10,000 households – which translates to around 60,000 people. Working with our partners, CRS chose the most vulnerable: families headed by a woman, someone who’s elderly or has a disability or is pregnant, families who eat as little as one meal a day – or less, families who have sold their last seed stocks or animals to buy food.

Then, vouchers are given out, which can be exchanged for food at local markets. The vouchers are distributed every 2 weeks instead of every month, so as not to flood the market and so that people have less to carry back home, often on foot, by donkey or camel. Using these local markets and local vendors also means a boost for local economies.

As we chatted late into the night, Katie shared with me the challenges of this project, but also the hopes…that the rains will be good this year…that the harvest, due in October, will be enough…that CRS can carry on helping set people on the right path to weather this most difficult of years.

                                          Women load up their donkey at Minekrat, in Chad
                                           with goods they´ve bought at the market, thanks
                                           to CRS. Photo by Anicet Nemeyimana/CRS

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

David Gressly´s field visit to Algeria to meet Malian Refugees

David Gressly, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for Sahel, was in Algeria last week and had the chance to meet the 300 refugees from Mali in the South of the country.
Sharing here some photos from his field trip:

Algerian Red Crescent are working with refugees in Southern Algeria
and the delivery of assistance in Northern Mali.

                 David Gressly in the refugee camp in South Algeria, discussing with women

Friday, September 7, 2012

Field Trip to Mali with USG Valérie Amos

By Emmanuelle Schneider, OCHA Sahel Team

I was in Mali last week with USG Valérie Amos and Regional Humanitarian Coordinator David Gressly.  We travelled to the North in Mopti.  I was impressed to to see how communities opened up theirs homes and shared their scarce resources with those who had fled insecurity and violence at the hands of militant groups.

                                  Under Secretary General Valerie Amos during the mission in Mali.
                                                        CREDIT: OCHA