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Niger is one of the nine countries that make up the Sahel, an eco-climactic zone that stretches across the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. The countries of the Sahel are among the poorest in the world, and suffer from chronic malnutrition, weak government capacity, and political instability. In Niger, the vast majority of the population is engaged in subsistence agriculture and reliant on rain-fed agriculture for their livelihoods, making them highly vulnerable to the erratic rainfall and droughts which have become more frequent in the past decade. As a result, Niger and other Sahelian countries are considered to be among the most vulnerable in the world to climate change.
Current Humanitarian Situation
In 2012, the Sahel experienced another major food crisis as a result of poor rainfall and high food prices. Close to 20 million people lacked enough food to feed their families and one million children were at risk of starvation. The crisis came on the heels of droughts in 2005 and 2010, which rendered households more vulnerable and left them with fewer coping mechanisms. Compounding the region’s problems, in January 2012, armed conflict broke out in Mali when Tuareg separatists and an Islamic militant group linked to Al Qaeda took control of large areas of northern Mali. As of early 2014, nearly 450,000 Malians were still displaced, with roughly 50,000 living as refugees in Niger.
Many Malian refugees are living in areas hit hard by these repeated droughts and food crisis. Their arrival has placed significant stress on local populations, in who were themselves struggling. A June 2012 RI report called attention to the weak donor response to the crisis. RI pressed the U.S. government to increase its financial support to Malian refugees and host communities, and requested that the U.S. State Department appoint a Regional Refugee Coordinator to ensure better coordination on assistance to refugees and the food-insecure communities hosting them. In July 2012, President Obama authorized an additional $10 million in assistance to the crisis and in December 2012, the U.S. State Department appointed a Regional Refugee Coordination. RI continues to advocate for strong, well-coordinated U.S. support to refugees and the poor communities hosting them.
Changes in climate and rainfall patterns across the Sahel have made it harder for people to feed their families, often forcing them to leave their villages in search of alternative sources of income. Some travel to gold mines, where they are forced to endure deplorable health and safety conditions and where child labor is a major concern. Others move to urban centers to engage in petty trade, or in the worst cases, to beg.
An August 2013 RI report warned that these new forms of “distress” migration present serious protection risks, both for those who leave and those who stay behind, including lack of access to services, exploitation, and even violence. RI calls on the United Nations and major donors (like the U.S. and European Union) to better track this new form of displacement, and to join with Sahelian governments in a coordinated effort to better protect those affected. Donors have also proposed new initiatives aimed at building the resilience of vulnerable populations to these climate-related disasters. Yet as of early 2014, EU- and UN-led resilience programs remained largely stalled and faced enormous implementation challenges. RI therefore urges donors and the UN to better coordinate these new initiatives.
Recurrent climate-related shocks in West Africa’s Sahel region are having severe impacts on vulnerable populations. Increasingly, those unable to feed themselves or their families have no option but to leave their villages, resorting to new forms of migration that bring with them serious protection risks. New resilience-building initiatives launched by regional bodies, the United Nations, and donors have the potential to begin to tackle the root causes of these populations’ vulnerabilities. However, a lack of coherence and coordination is seriously threatening the effectiveness of these initiatives. With implementation still in the initial stages, there is a window of opportunity to address these shortcomings before significant time and resource commitments are made.
Les chocs récurrents liés au climat dans la région Ouest-Africaine du Sahel ont des impacts conséquents sur les populations vulnérables. De plus en plus, ceux qui n’ont pas les capacités de se nourrir ou de nourrir leurs familles n’ont d’autre option que de quitter leurs villages, en ayant recours à de nouvelles formes de migration auxquelles sont associés d’important risques en matière de protection. De nouvelles initiatives de résilience lancées par des organismes régionaux, les Nations Unies, et les bailleurs de fonds pourraient s’attaquer aux causes profondes de la vulnérabilité de ces populations. Cependant, un manque de cohérence et de coordination menace considérablement l’efficacité de ces initiatives. Leur mise en œuvre en étant encore à son stade initial, il est encore temps de remédier à ces déficiences avant que ne soient pris des engagements significatifs en temps et en ressources.