West Africa crisis: how you saved lives
Friday 9 November 2012
“You’re going to Niger – hoping you can be there in a few days.”
My year started with my manager’s announcement that I’d be flying out to Niger – a little-known country in west Africa, where the early warning systems were signalling an impending food crisis.
Ten months later and we’ve achieved incredible results against a backdrop of scarce funds and ever-increasing needs.
I arrived in Niger in January to boiling temperatures and dusty Harmattan winds. I didn’t know what to expect but I could instantly see how hard it would be to survive and thrive in such an unforgiving, arid landscape.
Save the Children teams were already carrying out rapid assessments in the hardest-hit areas and preparing our response plan for the coming months – we knew the earlier we responded the more lives we could save and the cheaper it would be in the long run.
With the first generous donations from the general public, we started to deliver cash grants to the poorest families – supporting them to buy the essential food and items to stave off the worst of the crisis.
A spreading crisis
After the initial first few months, it was increasingly clear that the food crisis was not going to be contained to Niger but spread across the entire Sahel region.
Save the Children has been on the ground in the region for over 25 years and we knew we could use this foundation to respond in Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
My next mission was clear – I was moving to Mali, where over 4.6 million people were affected.
A short flight later and a thorough briefing over the phone from our security experts, I arrived in Bamako, the capital city of Mali. I quickly learnt that our teams were in the midst of delivering seeds to 160,000 people, which would allow families to grow their own crops and feed their children.
It was clear that our work not only treating the symptoms of hunger, but was also preventing future crises. Reports came in that the first rains were falling as the farmers were planting their seeds – we were just in time.
As we continued to deliver life-saving assistance to the worst-affected, I found it inspiring to think that this was being mirrored across the region.
Over the border in Burkina Faso we were training over 4,600 people on the best agricultural practices – not only to ensure they got the most out of this year’s harvest but also to build families’ ability to stave off future food crises.
In Mauritania, we were delivering education supplies to thousands of children – helping them to carry on going to school amid poverty and hunger.
As the food crisis started to reach its peak, our teams in Niger had already treated thousands of malnourished children at the same time as delivering cash grants to over 170,000 people and distributing over 600 tonnes of seeds to over 200 villages – building livelihoods and resilience.
For all our teams on the ground in the hardest hit areas, it was non-stop. Now, after ten months of dedication and long hours, Save the Children has reached over 1.2 million people across the region.
The generous support we received from the general public saved the lives of the most vulnerable children and built families’ ability to support themselves – preventing future crises. Thank you.