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More than 18 million people are suffering the disastrous effects of violence, famine, and drought in the Sahel region of Africa—but perhaps no country is at greater risk than Niger. Civil unrest and violence has prompted millions of people to flee their homes and search for safer destinations, but widespread drought and famine make fleeing danger next to impossible, for malnutrition and lack of food are silent forces that follow them everywhere. And in Niger, a cholera outbreak and locust infestation have further confounded the existing emergency.
According to French news agency Agence France-Press, over 150,000 children under five in Niger have severe acute malnutrition, a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical intervention. Because it only rains once a year in the Sahel, food harvests regularly fail and animals raised for sustenance die.
Right now countless international agencies are coming together to raise money and bring food and aid to the region. But while immediate assistance from the international community is necessary, some experts say that the real task lies with addressing the Sahel’s problems at a foundational level.
For example, instead of throwing billions of dollars at emergency response, experts say some of that financial assistance can be directed toward supporting off-season vegetable growth, so that farmers can plan ahead for possible droughts.
In the same vein, agencies like USAID can help Africans in the Sahel become more independent by supporting domestic animal protection. Livestock serve as community-building entities because they produce food and can be used as currency in some areas.
Alice Thomas, Refugees International's Climate Displacement Program Manager says, “The Sahel's extreme poverty and booming population have long meant food scarcity. Climate change and environmental degradation are adding even more stress. Going forward, humanitarian emergencies will become more and more frequent if the underlying problems are not addressed."