Mali: The human face of climate change

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A family of cattle herders in Mali shares their story

Where is the rain?"

After inquiring about the health of family members and livestock, the Tamasheq, a nomadic tribe in Mali, greet each other by asking about the weather.

But this isn't just idle chit-chat. For them, the rains mean everything.

Like many nomads in the semi-arid Sahel, an area south of the Sahara desert that spans the African continent, the Tamasheq depend on fertile grasslands to raise their cattle. But over the last several years, they have watched with dismay as the once-dependable rains arrive later and later in the season. The Sahel is experiencing the "worst effects of climate change in the world," according to the United Nations.

For Arahmat, who goes by his first name, the sporadic rains have devastated his family's livestock-and their life-line.

"Without rain, there is no pasture for our herds, and our animals die," Arahmat says. "When the rains do arrive, the cattle are so weak that they all become sick and die. We are tired of moving to look for green pastures and water. We have no food."

Children throughout the nomadic and pastoralist villages of Mali rely on the rich, nutritional value of cattle's milk for sustenance. When Arahmat's cattle died, his seven-month-old daughter couldn't get the nutrients she needed to survive. Severely malnourished, she was admitted to Action Against Hunger's therapeutic Stabilization Center, where she receives life-saving treatment and 24-hour care.

In Arahmat's area, the price of livestock has also plummeted, to devastating effect.

"In the past, we counted on selling our animals to buy sorghum and millet to eat when things went wrong," explains Arahmat. "But this year the price of the animals has hit the bottom. We can no longer sell them, or we sell them for almost nothing. We sold five goats for a bag of millet, when it would usually cost only one goat."

Entirely reliant on cattle for milk and income, and with the region experiencing rapid desertification, many families in Mali live a precarious existence.

Action Against Hunger has launched a rapid response centered in Gao, eastern Mali, to treat children on the brink of starvation and provide support for more than 16,000 people at risk of malnutrition. Recent nutrition surveys conducted there revealed that 16 percent of children in Gao suffer from acute malnutrition, which is above the World Health Organization emergency level.

Vulnerable families with young children like Arahmet's receive 30 kilograms of millet and three liters of oil, as well as therapeutic nutritional products specially designed for children's metabolisms. To prevent future outbreaks of malnutrition, Action Against Hunger provides families with seeds and training to help them build up food reserves they can revert to during difficult times. The organization is also establishing drip-feed irrigation systems in the area to boost crop production.

And to help ensure that world leaders assembled at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen don't forget the human face of climate change, Action Against Hunger is telling Arahmat's story.