The West Africa food crisis continues to intensify as drought tightens its grip on places like Mali. Could entire communities really be left without any food if action isn't taken? The story of Zama and his family suggests that, indeed, they could.
* * *
The elders of Benena village in Mali remember the year of 1973-74 and shake their heads. That was the last time they faced food shortages as bad as now, they say.
Yissibe, a village chief, conveys sadness and embarrassment as he reveals that his village no longer has food to offer visitors.
Yissibe, a village chief, sits in a dark, narrow room. He speaks slowly, almost apologetically, staring at the dusty, mud floor in front of him. He is ashamed, he says.
“In any normal year, if you came, we would welcome you with food and gifts. But this year…” he looks up with sadness, leaving his sentence hanging unfinished in the hot air.
It would be easy to throw in the statistics to finish off his sentence and show the bigger picture -- the 3 million people affected by the drought and food crisis in Mali alone, of whom 1.1 million need of immediate assistance.
But behind this bigger picture and these daunting numbers, there are many smaller pictures, and people -- each with his or her own story.
Zama Sanou, 45, sits outside his mud house next to his wife and some of the children. His red, teary eyes and tired, withdrawn face sharply contrast with his cheerful, colorful long shirt and matching trousers.
He normally grows millet and sorghum -- staple food in Mali -- but last year, nothing grew in his field because of the lack of rain. He says that the family now has to buy everything -- and even that isn't enough. Food prices are now double what they were four months ago.
Zama knows that buying bigger quantities would be more economical, but he can’t afford it, and the family simply must survive from one day to the next. “We never go to sleep full, satisfied,” he says.
At his job ironing clothes, Zama now earns just one-quarter of what he used to earn. People can no longer afford luxuries like having their clothing ironed.
For a living, he shares a small stall at the market with a neighbor who makes clothes. Zama’s job is to iron both the new clothes and clothing brought in by villagers. At one time, he could make the equivalent of up to U.S. $4 -- but there are fewer and fewer people who can afford the luxury of having their clothes ironed. Now, he is lucky to make $1 on most days.
The food shortage has impacted the whole community. Theft, for example, has been uncommon in Benena, but recently people have resorted to stealing from one another -- always food. Although Zama has had a chicken and some grains stolen, he understands and forgives.
“We all know that those who have stolen have done so out of need, because they have nothing and are hungry. It hasn’t been out of malice so no one reports these thefts. We understand and forgive,” he says.
As we speak, a group of goats pass by chewing on rubbish heaps lying around. As people struggle to feed themselves, animals are left to fend for themselves. They wander around in search of food. Often the only thing they can find is the rubbish heaps.
Zama tries to smile as he shows us his stall at the market -- the heavy, blackened iron he uses to make a meager $1 per day -- but it is a sad smile, full of uncertainty, just like their future.
The village chief echoes Zama's sentiment. “If you come back in May, and nothing has been done, you’ll see a whole community with no food at all.”
Please pray for children and families in villages like Benena in Mali, where drought and hunger have already brought so much suffering. Pray for rains to return and for abundant future harvests.
You can help today by making a one-time donation to help provide life-saving food and care, including interventions like emergency food aid, clean water, agriculture assistance, nutritional guidance, and more.
Also, consider sponsoring a child in Mali. Your love and support will help provide a boy or girl in need with the stability and support to cope with disasters like the current drought and food crisis.