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Beyond any drought
Sahel Working Group
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This report examines
how vulnerability is understood and addressed by development agencies
and government departments in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. The
2005 food crisis highlighted the extent of vulnerability in the
Sahel region, increased international attention paid to the people
of the Sahel and led to large sums of money being released to help
those people survive the immediate crisis. Most studies written
in the aftermath of the crisis have looked at the particular circumstances
of the events of 2005. This report was commissioned by the Sahel
Working Group, which was concerned that too much attention has been
paid to a quite specific scenario and too little to the unacceptable
and growing levels of vulnerability that pre-dated the crisis and
persist two years later.
The present study took
place during April and May 2007 and is based on a series of interviews
with development practitioners and donor representatives in London,
Washington DC, Bamako, Niamey and Ouagadougou, and on a desk review
of academic and grey literature including commissioned reports on
development approaches from Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.
The report is divided
into four main sections. The first explores the meaning of vulnerability
as perceived by theorists and development practitioners in the context
of the Sahel and identifies who is most vulnerable. The study finds
that the understanding of vulnerability varies between different
stakeholders, and that there is a tendency to equate vulnerability
with poverty. Most analyses in development agencies and government
offices divide causes of vulnerability into temporary and structural,
and carry an assumption that structural issues cannot be addressed
by development initiatives. Vulnerable households can be found among
farmers and pastoralists, and among the growing workforce of landless
labourers. Continuous loss of assets, including land and livestock,
without time or opportunity to rebuild has left people extremely
vulnerable. Among all these groups, children are particularly vulnerable,
as reflected in the high levels of acute child malnutrition seen
The second part of the
report assesses the root causes of vulnerability in the Sahel. It
considers a wide range of critical and interlocking factors that
lead to so many people being vulnerable. Changes in climate and
increasing drought frequency, population increase, a dependence
on natural resources and lack of economic alternatives, poor access
to services, poor governance and inequitable markets are all factors
that lead to more people becoming more vulnerable, and many have
been at play for many decades.
The third section reviews
aid delivery mechanisms adopted, and the impact these have had on
vulnerability in the Sahel. The report highlights the relatively
modest level of overall aid flow to the region despite it being
home to three of the world's four poorest countries. The effects
and sensitivity of structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) and Poverty
Reduction Strategies (PRSs) to vulnerability concerns, as championed
by multilateral institutions, are reviewed together with the trend
towards donor budget support among bilateral donors. Project-based
approaches are then considered, together with the interaction between
long-term development and humanitarian responses during the many
episodes of heightened crisis in the region.
The final section raises
a set of conclusions and sets out a number of key recommendations
that emerge from the overall report, as follows.
The landlocked countries
of the Sahel include three of the four poorest countries in the
world and yet rank low in the amount of funding they receive. Short-term
emergency responses to crises will not affect the ability of people
in the Sahel to cope with future shocks. A commitment to significant
and sustained increases in funding for longterm development is required.
The short timescales of most analyses and most interventions make
it difficult to address the root causes of vulnerability.
There is an urgent need
for a regional affirmation of pastoralism as a viable livelihood
in the Sahel. Pastoralism exists in many forms and is adapted to
make the most of scattered, variable and unpredictable resources,
but the mobility upon which pastoralists depend is under severe
threat. Support to pastoralism offers real hope for sustainable
production in some parts of the Sahel.
All development initiatives
must include planning for drought as a normal condition and not
as an unfortunate event. Drought happens and must be part of development
planning. Plans need to include reducing the impact of drought,
and increasing both resilience to drought and the ability to recover
New development work
must combine elements of humanitarian and development work. The
situation in the Sahel requires new approaches that combine welfare
and development practices. Agencies need to experiment with flexible
models including social transfers, and cash and food distribution,
integrated in different ways with development work on improving
production and diversifying livelihood systems. Agencies will need
to overcome the administrative, budgetary, personal and cultural
divisions and antagonisms that exist between these two disciplines.
The imposition of external
ideas about what constitutes good development and a focus on economic
growth as a driver for national development are not addressing the
needs and realities of the most vulnerable rural poor. Rural development
policies and approaches need to be more locally based and community
driven, and should relate to the resource-poor and risk-averse.
Development initiatives using different forms of aid delivery (e.g.
budget support and project support) should ensure synergy in the
initiatives they support. Long-term commitment and flexibility are
essential for successful interventions.
Donors should be prepared
to support recipient governments in international trade negotiations.
They should acknowledge inequities in terms of subsidized support
to farmers in developed countries when considering conditionalities
on development aid.
in all three countries, offers considerable potential to improve
accountability and representation of local interests in decision-making,
but requires a long-term substantial financial and moral commitment
from donors and government. Tiered approaches to service provision
(e.g. health, veterinary) can improve access to services among more
remote or mobile populations. Support to civil society and to mechanisms
to improve communications between elected officials and their constituents
is necessary to improve accountability and representation, as well
as training and support to the officials themselves.
There are some exciting
positive developments in the region. These derive almost exclusively
from long-term project work based on good learning from the communities
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