SAHEL, Africa — The Sahel region, a natural disaster-prone area classified as the strip of land on the African continent just below the Sahara but before the start of Savannah ecosystems, is one of Africa’s most struggling regions.
In recent history, the Sahel has experienced severe hunger emergencies. Last year alone, over 10 million people’s lives were threatened by a food crisis in the region, and according to the U.N.-affiliated program Africa Renewal, “Even in normal years, millions are in a permanent state of food insecurity.”
The brutal climate is often to blame. The Sahel is home to many impoverished rural communities that depend on rainfall to grow their food, but the annual rainfall is extremely inconsistent, and often a double-edged sword.
Droughts have plagued the region, and climate scientists predict that climate change will mean more heat and less rain in these already drought-stricken countries. However, when rain does fall, it occurs in monsoon-like proportions which damage crops and infrastructure and cause severe floods.
Unfortunately, the natural disaster-prone climate is not the Sahel’s only problem.
The United Nations Environment Program released a statement late last year saying, “Over the last half century, the combined effects of population growth, land degradation (deforestation, continuous cropping and overgrazing), reduced and erratic rainfall, lack of coherent environmental policies and misplaced development priorities, have contributed to transform a large proportion of the Sahel into barren land, resulting in the deterioration of the soil and water resources.”
Some of the countries in the Sahel have also experienced conflict over the last few years, including Mali, Sudan and Chad. In addition to all of the tragic consequences that follow conflict in any part of the world, conflict can exacerbate food insecurity and poverty by uprooting families and restricting access to traditional food sources.
Thankfully, influential actors in the international community have recently taken steps to support this vulnerable region.
Earlier this month, the World Bank announced the creation of a new trust fund for the Sahel to “help build resilience and reduce poverty in some of the world’s poorest countries.” The following week on July 23, the U.N. announced that it will pledge $75 million to support what it called two of the “world’s most neglected regions,” one of which was Africa’s Sahel.
With booming population growth and the threat of climate change on the horizon, the region’s future might depend on these new commitments from the international community. Hopefully these new funds will be able to improve food security and alleviate poverty, allowing the Sahel’s struggling communities to prosper.
– Emily Jablonski