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.
The Sahel is a semi-arid swath of grasslands and shrubs that borders the Sahara Desert. It is home to many of the world’s poorest countries, and malnutrition rates in many areas regularly exceed the emergency threshold of 15 percent. In Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, and Chad, nearly half of children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition. The ecological fragility of the Sahelian environment contributes to the food insecurity of its people, 80 percent of whom rely on natural resources for their livelihoods. Explosive population growth means that the Sahel’s population of more than 100 million people will double in 25 years. Sahelian countries also experience frequent political instability, with the separatist insurgency and military coup d’etat in Mali being the most recent example. In addition, the historic trade routes traversing the region have proven highly vulnerable to terrorist and criminal networks that present regional and global security risks.
Although the Sahel region is prone to droughts, over the past decade, marked changes in rainfall patterns have emerged. Rains have become more erratic in terms of quantity, timing, and geographic scope, making droughts and poor harvests more frequent. These changes are, in turn, having enormous impacts on the region’s livestock herders (pastoralists) and farmers who rely on crops to feed their animals (agro-pastoralists), given their dependence on rainfall for their livelihoods. This is especially the case for agro-pastoralists, for whom proper forecasting of the timing, location, and quantity of precipitation is crucial for planting.
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