West Africa’s Conflict And Climate Emergency Is A Worsening Humanitarian Crisis The World Hears Little About
West Africa faces what is arguably the worst humanitarian crisis that most people have never heard of. Since 2012, escalating violence and insecurity in the region have been forcing people from their homes in a desperate search for safety. In Mali and Niger alone, around seven million people need humanitarian assistance, many of them women and children living in hard-to-reach areas.
The climate emergency is also devastating lives and livelihoods, especially in the arid Sahel region. Vital infrastructure has deteriorated, and uprooted families are left without access to even basic social services. Many depend on agriculture or fishing but desertification, erratic rains, drought and flooding have pushed them to the brink of survival.
“In Mali one in four people do not know where their next meal is coming from. In Niger an estimated nine million people live in extreme poverty.”
The global humanitarian response to the West Africa crisis is grossly underfunded, but Islamic Relief is doing all it can to help. We began working in Mali in 1997, helping people affected by civil war. Eight years later we launched operations in neighboring Niger, responding to the food crisis.
In 2019 Islamic Relief supported over 211,000 people in Mali and Niger through 49 program including:
Lifesaving humanitarian relief
Islamic Relief’s emergency interventions are a lifeline for those affected by conflict and natural disasters that are increasing in frequency and intensity due to climate change. Our projects include food assistance, shelter and raising community awareness of protection issues.
Life-changing sustainable development
We work closely with communities not just in times of disaster but also long term to improve their lives and futures. In Mali we help families living in poverty adapt to the changing climate so they have regular access to food and can earn a reliable living. We also help reduce the worst effects of disasters and improve access to water, sanitation and hygiene.
Empowering women and children
In Mali and Niger we are building the capacity of vulnerable communities so they can claim their rights. We use a faith-based approach to increase awareness of the harm caused by gender-based violence and child protection issues. We also give the families of orphaned children a regular allowance to meet their basic needs and ensure vulnerable children are not disadvantaged.
“We came together because we needed support,” says Idrissa, a fisherman for 20 years and now part of a cooperative group in Niger’s Tillaberi region.
“Before when we were fishing on the river, sometimes we used to catch nothing. I used to earn CFA 2,000
[about £2.73] a month, not even enough to purchase a bag of millet.”
In 2017 Islamic Relief began a project to reduce food insecurity and bolster livelihoods in the Tinga Valley. Focused on agriculture and fishing, by the end of 2019 we had created 10 community fishponds, each stocked with 400 fish.
“With the fishponds, we are now able to control production,” says Idrissa. “I am now earning CFA 100,000 [about £136], which is enough to buy food for my family.” His cooperative is deliberately linked to groups of local fishmongers – women who buy their fish to sell at the market.
Among other activities this year, the project established plots of land to be irrigated using water-saving technology so local farmers can produce cash crops all year round. We trained farmers to use drought-tolerant seeds and early warning systems to reduce their vulnerability to fluctuating market prices. And we set up community shops so people can buy good quality seeds and tools. Due to complete in 2020, the project is giving 1,000 families brighter futures.
“Our girls no longer undergo female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). We stopped that,” says Bintou, a grandmother living in Mali’s capital city. “And all our neighbours were approached and made aware so that they may stop [too].”
As a widow with seven children, Bintou struggled to make ends meet until she started receiving a regular stipend through Islamic Relief’s orphan sponsorship scheme, which also introduced her to our Channels of Hope project. She began attending
monthly meetings in which faith leaders talked about harmful practices such as FGM/C and early forced marriage.
“All those who attended the [faith] meetings gained a much deeper understanding of FGM/C.”
Inspired, the 46-year-old joined one of our community action teams, persuading others in Bamako to stop the practices. “I would go about telling the people I know. And since many have understood, it was fairly easy to spread the message.
“In my house there are seven girls who are not yet ready for marriage. They need to learn more about life, grow up and become mature before they get married. Once they are ready, I will allow them to get married but not before. [And] none of my granddaughters have undergone FGM/C and none of them will insha’Allah.”
In Bintou’s neighbourhood almost all girls were subjected to FGM/C, but with our intervention that went down to just one in 20.
The project has trained religious leaders, schoolteachers and youth workers as well as local women and children, empowering them to push for positive change in their communities.
In addition the project, which also covered villages in rural Ouélessebougou, persuaded seven FGM/C practitioners to give up the practice. School attendance rose, particularly among girls, and rates of violence against women fell, as did the number of early and forced marriages.