30 May 2012

An email exchange

Saw this in my inbox this morning [reproduced with permission from Mom]:

       Just saw on world news that your area is needing rain and children are dying due to drought. Didn't you say the rains came early, often and hard just a few weeks ago ? Can you direct where we should send funds? It was heart-breaking to watch.
         You're OK, right ? Film footage was not in B.F., but the map highlighted there.
                  Please reply asap. mom

Thanks Mom! It's nice to know people are worried. The situation here IS bad. Here is my response [reproduced with permission from me]:

I need to preface this by saying that humanitarian aid is not my field. I am at best tangentially aware of those kinds of activities happening here, so my advice is based on a weird amalgam of rumor, second-hand recommendations, and web research. All of which is to say that if you hear of something you think may be better, don't discount it just because I didn't mention it.

The problem is not so much the drought this year as it is that there were not enough rains LAST year, so not enough food was produced to hold people over until the crops can be brought in this season (which won't be until around late June for the first round of corn, late July for the first rounds of millet and sorghum...so even if the rains continue well this year, some people will be literally starving until then). The problem is made much worse by the refugees from Mali, who are an extra drain on production since obviously they can't feed themselves. So yes, while the rains are so far ok here this year (though unseasonably early, which is not an unmitigated positive), many people's stores are empty, forcing them to buy, and food prices are up. Not everyone can afford it. There is a popular movement here called "la vie chère" that in situations like this hosts protest marches. In past years, those marches have sometimes become violent. So far that hasn't happened this year, but everyone knows it is a possibility.

The good news is that a lot of aid is coming in for the refugees, from the UN, from individual countries (including the US), and from NGOs. The bad news is that there is so much focus on aid for the refugees that less assistance is available for Burkinabé than would normally be the case in such a famine. Besides being bad for obvious reasons, that's also a source of potential conflict. Note that while I'm speaking about Burkinabé because I live here, the same situation is unfolding in Niger, Mali itself (though because of the ongoing conflict, aid is mostly blocked), Mauritania, and Algeria. Chad is also suffering from the famine, though I don't believe they have a Malian refugee population exacerbating the problem.

If you would like to help the refugee populations:

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is working in the camps in Niger (and maybe elsewhere):
http://crs.org/niger/sahel-crisis-helping-refugees-in-niger/ (Donate link at top)
They also have general food assistance programs in the region, though I don't know whether they have anything in place specifically addressing the current famine.

The ICRC is working in camps in Burkina, Niger, and Mali:

To donate: http://www.icrc.org/eng/donations/index.jsp

The UN hosts a site that collects refugee news. The Burkina page is found at:

That is probably a good place to get more information than I can gather in this brief note.

To assist non-displaced populations who are suffering from the famine, the big hitters are:
Oxfam, with whom I have never worked but about whom I have never heard anything but very good things:
(Donate link at top right)

The IFRC (and I don't pretend to understand the intricacies of the Red Cross collaborations, so I don't really know how different this is from the ICRC above. I just know that what we call here "the Red Cross" is working both in the camps and with indigenous Burkinabé):
(donate link is first option in "Get Involved" drop-down menu)

The World Food Programme (a UN aid agency) has activities pretty much anywhere there is hunger. I've heard them described as bureaucratic and somewhat inefficient (again, I've never worked with them so cannot give a personal opinion), but they are EVERYWHERE, and there's something to be said for that - they have a lot of leverage when working with host governments.

(donate online link in "Get Involved" drop-down menu here, too).

A good general resource on humanitarian aid is irinnews.org. For instance: http://www.irinnews.org/Country/BF/Burkina-Faso

USAID funds a famine-specific news source, which is good for climate monitoring and understanding the full situation of food insecurity in the region (but does not address your specific question of funding aid efforts):

I wish I knew more, but I'm pretty confident in at least those recommendations. In fact, I am going to reproduce this email on my blog. Do you mind if I copy your email, too, to give it context?


With that, I will now go off to other places and invite my very knowledgeable friends to add to and/or correct the advice here. Also, I apologize for the ugly formatting, but I am in a hurry so just using Blogger's native options. When I come back in to report on my friends' ideas, perhaps I'll also have the chance to pretty this up.