Why West Africa needs to build resilience

Kieran Guilbert
Reporter, Reuters
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This article is published in collaboration with Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Humanitarian groups in West Africa must focus more on helping vulnerable communities boost their resilience to cope with disasters and crises, the head of the Red Cross said on Tuesday, amid rising food insecurity in the Sahel and relentless Boko Haram violence.

Building resilience would save lives and reduce the cost of disaster recovery and aid efforts in a region where floods, droughts and irregular rains destroy livelihoods and hamper development, said the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ (IFRC) secretary general Elhadj As Sy.

“The lines between emergency response, development work and recovery efforts are becoming increasingly blurred as it is the same communities that suffer multiple deprivations,” Sy told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at an IFRC conference in Dakar.

The IFRC last year devised The One Billion Coalition, an initiative to scale up community and civic resilience efforts for one billion people by 2025, with solutions ranging from water resource management to support for farmers and women and girls.

It will be officially launched in December, following the adoption in September of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by United Nations member nations – a set of 15-year objectives that include a pledge to improve resilience to climate change and disasters.

“Not every natural hazard must become a disaster,” Sy said.

Twenty million people across the Sahel are going hungry due to erratic weather, failed crops, volatile food prices and violence, and the situation is set to worsen as the El Nino weather pattern reaches its peak, according to the IFRC.

Malnutrition has hit emergency levels across Mauritania, while conflict and displacement has exacerbated food insecurity in Nigeria and Niger and left many people without enough to eat.

More than 2.5 million people have been uprooted in the Lake Chad basin by Boko Haram violence since May 2013, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“It is totally unacceptable that innocent people who are already facing so many other forms of hardship have to take on this additional burden of terror and violence,” Sy said.

Humanitarian organisations must also give greater consideration to the protection of vulnerable people when responding to disasters and crises rather than focusing on delivering immediate life-saving aid, according to Sy.

Children and women are particularly at risk of being abused, trafficked and sexually exploited in the aftermath, he said.

“As humanitarian actors, we have to learn the hard way that traffickers and criminals exploit crisis situations and that by the time we are ready with food, water and shelter, thinking about protection could be too late for too many people,” he said.

Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Dakar-based Kieran Guilbert is the West Africa Correspondent for the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Image: A girl stands outside a hut in Niger’s capital Niamey. REUTERS/Richard Valdmanis

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