As the drought and food crisis escalate across West Africa, how is World Vision responding both to urgent, immediate needs, as well as long-term recovery challenges? Here's a closer look at what's going on in villages across Niger.
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.
Imagine yourself in a dry, hot, dusty landscape, where water sources are scarce, and where parents don't know whether they have enough food for their children for the day -- or where tomorrow's food will even come from. This is a glimpse into the West African country of Mali, where the regional drought and food crisis is intensifying quickly.
In Africa, there is often a period of time between when a family’s stores from their last harvest runs out and when their new crop is ready to eat. These are known as the "hungry months."
Expensive, store-bought food is purchased and carefully rationed. Those who can’t buy food depend on neighbors, relatives, churches, and food distributions. And if there’s a drought, crops fail, or rains are late, those hungry months can turn into a hungry year.
This is the case for communities in the Horn of Africa (Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Somalia), which is recovering from a historic drought and food crisis, and communities in West Africa (Niger, Mauritania, Mali, Chad, and Senegal), where drought is just settling in.
It’s lean, green, and full of protein. Frog -- the other, other white meat.
In many parts of the world, frog meat is seen as a delicacy. In some areas where World Vision works, it is one of the only sources of protein within reach.
What does clean water mean to you? How often do you think about it? In her fourth blog entry, World Vision's Lauren Fisher compares two communities in Niger -- one that has a safe source of water, and one that does not. Follow Lauren's trip here on our blog or @WorldVisionNews (#wvlauren) for live, on-the-ground reports from the field.
* * *
Lately, you could say water has become a major obsession of mine. In the past, I’ve taken it for granted. It’s the back-up beverage when I can’t find iced tea or soda; it's the bath I can count on at the end of a long day.
But as one colleague told me, in Zinder, water is precious. For me, that means there is no water at all, without warning, at any given time. At any given time, the shower stops working mid-shampoo, along with any other bathroom fixture. It’s made for some comical mornings, as you can well imagine.
Of course, I’m happy that the United Nations has declared an end to the famine in Somalia. This is encouraging news, considering that six regions of the country were designated as famine zones last July. However, an estimated 2 million people still face serious food shortages in Somalia. Our work in the drought-ravaged Horn of Africa is nowhere near done.
How would you respond if you heard a 13-year-old girl say that on some days, she simply doesn't eat? World Vision's Lauren Fisher, covering the drought and food crisis in Niger and across West Africa, writes her third blog post recounting stories of visits with people and communities affected by this emergency. Follow Lauren here on our blog or @WorldVisionNews (#wvlauren) for live, on-the-ground reports from the field.
* * *
“Someday, I want to be an NGO [non-governmental organization] worker.”
Shy 13-year-old Koubra Mamane’s answer surprises me. A bit hesitant in her speech, and a bit skeptical of the whole interview, she reminds me of your typical teenage girl. She tells us she loves mathematics and has to help her mom around the house. She shows us her school books carefully stowed in a bright yellow and red purse.
“I like calculations in school, but I also like the other subjects because I want to become intelligent and gain knowledge,” she adds.
But her dreams of the future wouldn’t be the only answer that gives me pause. In fact, the next one has been stuck in my head ever since it came out of her mouth. We ask Koubra about the food shortages in her village. She says that when there is no money, her family cannot buy food.
Those days, she and her family do not eat.
World Vision's Lauren Fisher is on the ground in Niger, where prolonged drought has resulted in weak harvests and a food crisis similar to what the Horn of Africa has suffered over the past year. Follow Lauren here on our blog or @WorldVisionNews (#wvlauren) for live, on-the-ground reports from the field.
* * *
It’s 3 p.m., and the school is alive with clapping, singing, and plenty of desperate hand-raising. We’re spending our afternoon with the children of the Toungouzou village at their school, built by World Vision.
It looks like most schools you’ve been in, complete with the light scent of chalk dust, the boards filled with maps and songs. The children, ranging in age from 6 to about 13, are excited to see the cameras and to have some new people to admire their recently learned skills. A beautiful young girl in red dress and scarf comes up to the front to show us the song she’s learned. She beams shyly at our applause. We find out later that she’s 12 years old and hopes to be a doctor someday.
But along with the hopes and dreams in this classroom, the reality of the food crisis in Niger is here as well. There are several empty spots in the classroom where pupils once sat.
Lauren Fisher, emergency communications manager with World Vision, has been deployed to Niger for five weeks. Throughout West Africa, as many as 23 million people may be affected by the hunger crisis there in the coming months, including 13 million in World Vision's program areas. Follow Lauren here on our blog or @WorldVisionNews (#wvlauren) for live, on-the-ground reports from the field.
* * *
It was the best moment of the day. Not the warm smiles and waves of the villagers, not the sound and sight of sparkling, precious water hitting the waiting buckets, not even the laughs of children seeing how my camera worked.
Instead, the moment that brought us all to laughs, clapping, and even near tears came from one little wail from a tiny 2-year-old.
The nurse had tried to change the angle of the Plumpy’Nut™ little Hassane was clutching so tightly. Moments before, he was all but motionless in his mother’s arms, reacting only with shrieks as the nurse at the child nutrition clinic tried to weigh him.
We didn’t need the red marker of the band measuring his arm circumference to tell that he was severely malnourished. With tiny arms and legs, little Hassane looked to me much more like a small infant than a boy who was nearly a toddler. He weighed just 16 pounds.
You are in a small health clinic in southern Chad. It is 9 a.m. The air is hot, dry, and filled with cries.
You are amidst 40 mothers sitting on the ground or on the clinic’s porch, babies in their laps. Under brightly colored headscarves, their faces look tired, drawn, sad. You catch glimpses of the babies. Their skin is stretched over their chests like paper over wire frames. Their legs are long and thin. Their bellies are protruding. Four of the mothers, clearly malnourished themselves but still trying to breastfeed their babies, are sitting on a wooden bench. In front of them is a row of tall, yellow roses.
You have never seen so much color and sadness in the same place. The contrast is unbearable. But you try to cope.
Then, your name is called out. You look up. But it’s not you who is being called. It is one of the mothers. She struggles to get onto her feet. She walks with her baby into the consultation room. Tears flow down the baby’s face as he is measured, weighed, and the nutrition-monitoring band is wrapped around his arm. You don’t need to wait to hear the results to know that he is severely malnourished.
Have you ever asked yourself, “What am I doing to make my community, my country, and my world a better place?”
Perhaps you asked yourself something similar in your new year resolutions; or perhaps you ask it when you look at your own children. As a mother of three, I find myself doing this.
As I reflect on the words of President Obama's State of the Union address from last night, this is the question I hope we are all asking -- and doing something about it.
I am a textbook “hangry” person. When I get hungry, I get angry. It’s not a pleasant experience for those around me, and it leads me to snack about every two hours. My closest friends know that without food in my body, no decisions will be made, and the conversations will not be pleasant.
So, I end up talking about the issue of hunger a lot -- usually my own.
The proper definition of the word “hunger” is “a compelling need or desire for food" or "the painful sensation or state of weakness caused by the need of food.” I recognize that my hunger pales in light of what others go through, and the endless access I have to food is abnormal compared to the majority of the globe.
But rarely do I consider the full weight of the word “hunger.”
We’re counting our blessings each day this week in celebration of Thanksgiving. Blessings #4, 5, and 6: for rooftops over our heads, food in our bellies, and prayers for provision for those who currently endure without these basics.
* * *
The holiday season has officially begun. Weeks before Thanksgiving, Christmas ads appeared on TV and in newspapers. Last week, I was in New York City, where the window displays and Christmas lights are an art form, which delights native New Yorkers and the thousands of tourists who flock there to experience this special time of year. I confess that I feel like a kid again -- filled with wonder and awe -- when I get to visit New York at this time of year.
Sometimes the quieter holiday -- Thanksgiving -- gets lost in the Christmas excitement. But still, this week, people across the United States will come together with friends and family to eat their delicious Thanksgiving dinners.
At the end of the meal, we’ll say how we ate too much and will have to ramp up our workouts to get rid of those extra calories.
But that’s not the case for everyone in the United States.
Two regions in the world are experiencing severe drought, and yet the outcomes in terms of human suffering are dramatically different. Do you know where these droughts are taking place? And can you tell what distinguishes one from the other?
Drought 1: It began in the fall of 2010, yet it persists one year later. Forecasters say there is a 50-percent chance that weather patterns will not change for the next 12 months. In the last century, this region of the world has experienced its driest 12 months ever recorded. Extreme and exceptional drought covers more than 90 percent of the land. Combined with record-high temperatures, the drought is having an unprecedented impact on the region’s economy and the livelihood of its residents. Economists estimate that $5 billion has been lost as crops and cattle are lost to the hot and arid conditions. To top it off, wildfires have destroyed another 3 million acres of land.
Drought 2: Another drought elsewhere in the world looks similar. For roughly two years, rainfall has been minimal. The rains that typically provide water for crops were just 30 percent of the average rainfall in recent years. Cattle and crop losses are roughly $300 million and have been devastating for the region’s families. Recognizing the conditions, farmers shifted away from their traditional cash crops and toward less profitable but quick-maturing food. But many are still unable to provide an income or even food for themselves or their families.
Both droughts are linked to variations in ocean temperature caused by La Niña. Both regions are agricultural, raising cattle and a variety of crops. Both groups of people have made rational choices in response to weather conditions completely out of their control.
Their plight reminds me of a boy called Maror Bol. He was about 13 years old when I met him in Sudan. Maror was in similar dire straits and was also robbed. He also taught me one of the most important lessons of my life.
In 1998, bad weather and factional fighting had provoked a famine in Southern Sudan. Maror had walked about 50 miles to reach a World Vision feeding center for malnourished children -- located at a rough camp in the middle of nowhere. I spoke to Maror as he joined a line to register for assistance. He explained that his brother had kicked him out, saying there was not enough food to go around. So he took a long walk across Sudan’s parched landscape to see if he could get assistance.
When I saw him, he had not eaten for days and was naked. He is the only person I have ever met who had absolutely nothing.