Over four million people are facing starvation across the Sahel region of West Africa. The worst affected countries are Niger, Mali and Mauritania. In Niger around one quarter of the population is affected with 3.5 million people, including almost one million children under five, facing starvation. Drought is also beginning to affect huge areas of Southern Africa as well.
Why has this crisis happened?
In September 2004, the West African countries of Mali, Mauritania, and Senegal were visited by the desert locust - the single most destructive insect on our planet. They arrived in their millions, destroying crops such as maize, sorghum and millet, right at the time when it was due to be harvested.
Nomadic herders who rely on livestock for food and income began to run out of fodder for their animals.
Farmers lost up to 70 per cent of their harvest, leaving them with very little on which to survive to the next harvest, due in September 2005.
These people are desperate. They are having to watch their children become weaker and their livestock die. From now until September, they face an ever-increasing battle to find what little wild grains are available to feed themselves and their children. Emaciated livestock, worth nothing, cannot be sold. The price of cereals has more than doubled and no staple foods are available in the markets. Worst of all, experts fear the locusts may return.
The UN launched an emergency flash appeal for Niger for $18.3 million in May 2005, but the response by the international community was poor. It remains less than a quarter funded, with a shortfall of $14.7m. On 21st July, the Irish government pledged €1 million to Niger in response to the crisis.
What is Oxfam doing?
In Niger, Oxfam is implementing two major schemes in the eastern Tahoua, northern Maradi and northern Tillaberi regions of the country.
Through the Voucher for Work scheme, which reaches 130,000 people, Oxfam provides the poorest 20 per cent of communities and households with vouchers which they can exchange for food and seeds at lower than average prices. In return, the recipients carry out activities that promote the health of the community, including the removal of animal carcasses, drying meat from culled livestock, and reforestation.
About 10-20 per cent of the population will be too weak to work or will not have the time available to work e.g. single mothers. These people will receive free vouchers .
With its de-stocking programme, which reaches 28,000 people, Oxfam buys livestock at a fair price and then has them slaughtered. This provides an immediate income for families, reduces the number of animals on the market and in turn raises prices, and increases the survival chances of the remaining herd. Oxfam pays the equivalent of £40/€57 per cow in comparison to the going market rate of £15/€21. £40/€57 enables a family to buy two 50g sacks of millet.
In the Gao region of Mali, Oxfam has been responding to the locust crisis since December 2004, with programmes designed to reach 50,000 people. Programme activities include a voucher for work scheme, the subsidised sale of animal feed, seed fairs, food security monitoring and helping the communities prepare against possible locust invasion in the future.
Oxfam is already saving lives in Niger and Mali, but the scale of the catastrophe is enormous.
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