Drought and dust twisters in the Sahel

Friday, April 13, 2012 - 16:20

In the village of Sare Samba Niebe lie the ruins of huts that were once home to a family of 30 people.

Situated on a patch of sun-scorched land, just off a dusty, bumpy track, there’s an eerie feel about the place from which this family upped and left not long ago.

My local guide, Bassirou, tells me that the family have obviously invested heavily in their homes, as the houses have been built to last. But they’ve been forced to leave to find better grazing for their animals and fertile land to cultivate.

Getting enough food to eat is an increasingly difficult task in the village of Sure Ngaye, a short drive down the bumpy track from the abandoned homes of Sare Samba Niebe.

Aliou Sane, a 20 year old local farmer, told me:

Before we’d eat three meals a day but now we’re down to two – breakfast and dinner.

“We used to eat millet mixed with milk and wild fruits. But because of the situation we’re now just eating millet mixed with water instead”.

The lack of seasonal rains across the Sahel region has made this year’s dry season even more difficult to deal with than usual for the people living at Sure Ngaye.

Whilst I’m standing in the village talking to a mother and daughter about the food situation, a dust twister suddenly appears and shoots through the village.

The villagers told me that these dust twisters pass through on a daily basis, as hot winds swirl through the village, picking up the dust as they go.

For the moment we’re living here, and we’re trying to survive but we need help

said Aliou Sane.

ActionAid is sending food aid to the area, which will help meet the villager’s needs for the coming days and weeks. But long-term solutions to the region’s drought problem need to be found, as inconsistent rains continue to play havoc with farmers’ ability to feed their families.

In nearby Kussani, villagers opened a seed bank a few years back to give local farmers access to seeds in difficult years.

By paying a membership fee of 5kg, they can get up to 100kg of seeds per family, which they then plant. When the harvest comes, they pay back the sacks that they used, plus a 10% interest rate.

Head of the bank, Ngouye Camara, told me that the bank had made a real difference in the last few years but that he feared the months ahead.

In the last years we’ve had three storage sheds full of maize, each containing 40 tonnes. But this year, with the drought, we haven’t even been able to have 20 tonnes in each shed. 

The three shops I visited were now looking very empty and Ngouye told me that he fears that the situation will get even worse. He told me that prices are going up and supply is limited as they’ve had a bad harvest.

Sitting on top of the few remaining sacks in one of the bank’s sheds, Ngouye painted an ominous picture.

“Famine will come soon as people will have nothing to eat”, he said.