West Africa: “Ending the Everyday Emergency”

A new report commissioned by World Vision and Save the Children calls for a radical rethinking of policies to address hunger in West Africa.

The report entitled “Ending the Everyday Emergency” was written by Peter Gubbels of Groundswell International - an organisation that seeks to tackle the root causes of poverty.

It notes that more than 1 million children face life-threatening malnutrition in the Sahel region, and it blames this on a “resilience deficit” as communities fail to cope with repeated setbacks such as drought, poor harvests, and soaring food prices.

These misfortunes are combined with structural problems such as low levels of education, healthcare, ecological degradation, and high population growth.

The report says the vast majority of the most vulnerable households in the Sahel have neither the time nor the necessary support to get out of debt or restore their normal means of making a living.

So far the chief method of combating this problem has been through attempts to boost agricultural production.

The report praises World Vision’s pioneering work in Niger promoting Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration, which has restored vast tracts of barren land and dramatically bolstered crop yields.

But the report laments that such initiatives have not been complemented by more extensive and coordinated efforts to deal with other issues that contribute to a lack of resilience and malnutrition.

These would include initiatives to boost incomes and ensure access to health and education for the poorest households.

When additional efforts are lacking, even when agricultural production improves, child malnutrition persists.

“The evidence is clear that while increased agricultural production and income are often necessary, they are clearly not sufficient to reduce child undernutrition,” the report says.

Consequently, the report calls for a more integrated and collaborative approach by the United Nations, humanitarian organisations, and donors that addresses the problems of hunger in a more holistic way.

“To break the hunger cycle requires a long-term, integrated rehabilitation and prevention programme addressing nutrition, health, water, hygiene, sanitation, and behavioural changes,” the report says.

The report makes multiple recommendations to improve resiliency and nutrition.

They include integrating nutrition education with agricultural programmes, improving access to healthcare by removing user fees, scaling up the use of strategic food reserves, and assisting local communities to be better prepared for future crises.