Via The Globe and Mail: In Sahel, knowledge becomes a weapon to fight famine. Excerpt:
The villagers listen politely to the nutrition worker, but they can't contain their skepticism when she tells them to give vegetables to their children. “A lot of us don't have anything to give,” one villager objects.
He is telling the truth. Drought has ravaged the Sahel region of West Africa, where 23 million people in eight countries are facing food shortages this year. It's the second-worst humanitarian emergency in the world – behind only Somalia, where up to 100,000 children have already died – and it's quickly growing worse.
Yet the nutrition worker has a point. Some villagers do have vegetables, but prefer to sell them in the market, as tradition dictates. Just outside the village meeting, where stray goats wander in the dust, a bicycle is loaded with cabbage for transport to the nearest market.
“You grow nice vegetables, yet you don't give them to your families,” the nutritionist chides the villagers. “It's a little strange, isn't it?”
Her visit to Zarkoum, a village on the edge of the Sahel in Burkina Faso, is an early step in a renewed campaign of health education here. In this land of chronic drought, where rainfall has declined by nearly 50 per cent since 1954, relief agencies are searching for long-term solutions instead of stop-gap aid. Education will be a big part of any solution.
Learning the lessons of Somalia, the aid workers are trying to intervene early, before hunger turns into catastrophe. But this is the third severe drought in the Sahel in less than a decade. Innovative new ideas will be needed – and are already being introduced.
About a million malnourished children across the Sahel are expected to need emergency aid this year. The crisis has been worsened by wars in neighbouring states, with 70,000 refugees fleeing from Mali and 200,000 migrant workers losing their jobs in Libya. The lean season – when the last harvest has been fully consumed – is approaching fast, likely beginning next month.
Yet in the proud culture of this harsh semi-arid region, men would rather sell vegetables than admit their inability to feed their children.
“Malnutrition is a disease of shame,” says Abila Dabaye, a doctor at a hospital in the town of Kaya in Burkina Faso. “People don't want to admit that their children are malnourished.”