Sahel region struggles with conflict, drought, and famine

By April 4, 2012

Mali (MNN) — Some 200,000 people have fled fighting in Mali. The chaos in the north has forced humanitarian aid groups to suspend response there.

Refugees have been crossing into
Burkina Faso and Mauritania at an average rate of 400 people per day.  

Tens of thousands
of people have also been displaced within Mali, where much of the north has
fallen to Tuareg rebels since a military coup in Bamako on March 22. Wayne DeJong with the Christian
Reformed World Relief Committee
explains, "As a
result of the rebellion in northern Mali, we have very limited access to the whole
northern half of the country, plus we have the additional problem of the
refugees who have fled Mali into other countries, as well as internally
displaced people within Mali–about 30,000 of them."

DeJong says
that's only made a food crisis a disaster. "Right across the Sahel–especially now in Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Senegal, we
have a total of about 13 million people who are vulnerable, and about 10
million who are food insecure."

The refugees are
pouring into neighboring countries in urgent need of food, water,
sanitation, and shelter. Already limited food supplies, increased
demand, and static supply led to sharply increased prices.  

However, CRWRC teams are responding along the border areas. Why not in Mali? "We had staff in
Bamako, but they left the country on the weekend and managed to safely drive to
Senega. We're very thankful for that, but we're not sure, at this point,
when they might be able to return."

The team got out before things get complicated, DeJong notes,
allowing them to remain mobile. "Once sanctions are implemented by
ECOWAS, the group of West African States, it's quite likely that land borders
will be closed, and there will be gas shortages and possibly some banking
issues."  DeJong adds that their work in
Mali was not completely disrupted because the national staff remained behind.

Focusing on Niger means CRWRC teams can still effectively assist
the refugees as well as Nigeriens. The
country has suffered six severe food crises over the past 30 years, four of
which came in the past eight years. 

Although there was a good harvest in Niger during 2010, the patchy rains and
poor harvest in 2011 have left many without enough food to sustain their
families. Added to this situation, there
has been an influx of 200,000 refugees from Libya, in addition to those from Mali. 

Through its alliance with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB),
CRWRC will provide food assistance to urban and rural areas for six months for
4,062 families–approximately 28,434 people, giving people time to harvest the
2012 crops and have greater food security.

DeJong notes that this response is one of the larger ones they've
been involved in, with a budget of $2.4 million. Staff in Niamey are dealing with 5.4
million people who are food insecure, about half of the total in the region. The
team is working this week on getting more food supplies into Niger, even as international
food managers are heading over to help plan the distribution. 

CRWRC teams understand that traditional evangelism could
cause problems in the mainly-Muslim area, but that does not stop the hope of
the Gospel. "We do work with
Christian partner organizations, and we have Christian staff. Their approach is
to show the love of Christ to people in
need. We don't have an opportunity to openly proclaim the Gospel, but our
actions speak louder than words."

Help will come through the Food for Work (FFW) project, where
beneficiaries choose work projects that they will do together to contribute to
the long-term development of their communities in exchange for food, like improving
communal land or repairing routes to increase access to the market. 

These beneficiaries, and others who were unable to do FFW, will
also be able to purchase food at a subsidized price, so that they will have
enough for their families to eat until their next harvest.

CRWRC is also
planning to distribute a variety of improved seeds to FFW participants, to
increase the diversity of their crops as well as to allow them to have
fast-growing crops able to withstand poor or short  rains. Those who
have been identified by CRWRC's long-term partners as unable to participate in
FFW and unable to purchase at a subsidized price will receive free food
rations.

Prayer is needed, says DeJong. "Pray for
stability in Niger and also for the refugees who have fled to Niger from Mali,
because they're going to be in an even more difficult situation." Pray for good rains across the region and that
this six month project will be successful at meeting needs until a new crop can
be harvested. 

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