The Sahel region of West Africa includes some of the poorest countries in the world, lacking the capacity for minimum service delivery and harbouring very low nutrition, health and livelihoods indicators. The recurrent crises in the region include: slow onset and recurring food crises linked to repeated droughts; floods linked to extreme events, affecting fertile and often highly populated areas; encroachment on coastal areas vital for biodiversity and fishing communities; conflicts with population movement crises, with thousands of uprooted people seeking refuge in fragile environments.
The National Societies in the region and IFRC primarily respond to a multitude of disasters each year, and undertake risk reduction and organisational development activities. However, humanitarian crises continue to impact the Sahel Region. Food and nutrition situation remains precarious as access to food is difficult for the most vulnerable households; the situation is expected to further deteriorate during the lean season (June to September). In 2013 it was estimated that in overall Sahel, 11 million people remain at risk of food insecurity and nutrition, including 3.6 million people in need of immediate food assistance and livelihood support.
Food crisis is not the only threat in the region. In January 2013, the French army began the intervention in Northern Mali to stop the progression of the rebel groups on their way to Bamako. This Intervention contributed to increasing population movements within the country and to neighbouring countries of Mauritania, Algeria, Niger and Burkina Faso. The situation in Mali especially in the North is still very fragile given the existing tensions among the actors to the conflict. The armed conflict in Central African Republic has created similar tension as it affected one of the countries of the Sahel Region, namely Chad, with population movements. Given the impact of crises and disasters, the Sahel Disaster Risk Department worked in 2013 with National Societies to strengthen their community and institutional preparedness to prepare for and respond to disasters. A particular attention has been paid in supporting the regional disaster response teams to ensure that there is a demonstrably efficient, effective and sustainable system that is operational for mobilizing appropriately skilled regional capacities to respond to disasters requiring international assistance.
In health, tremendous results have been noticed regarding Community-based health and first aid (CBHFA). CBHFA is an integrated community-based approach in which Red Cross/Red Crescent volunteers work with their communities in disease prevention, health promotion, first aid and disaster preparedness and response. With this integrated approach, different aspects of vulnerability are identified and addressed; the community is at the heart of this process. The training of Red Cross volunteers on CBHFA is part of the Federation core priority towards building a volunteer cohort that is capable of supporting the National Society’s interventions. Therefore, the Gambia Red Cross Society (GRCS) felt it necessary to update and increase the knowledge of volunteers on the health information dissemination using the CBHFA approach. As a matter of fact, a total of 55 volunteers across all regions in the Gambia have been trained on CBHFA and can now ensure the National Society’s effective contribution to the Millennium Development Goal by implementing its plan of action.