Remarks by Nancy Lindborg, Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance, USAID at the High-Level Event on the Sahel

Wednesday, February 20, 2013
The Situation in the Sahel: One Year On


Good morning.

Thank you to the World Food Program for hosting us today and to all of you for your partnership in responding to a tragic set of conditions that plunged more than 18 million people into crisis in the Sahel last year.

As we reflect on what we have achieved and bring new ideas to the challenges still ahead, it’s important to remember that due to our collective follow-through on the commitments we made last year, to a fast and resolute humanitarian response and to help build resilience in the Sahel, we prevented a tragic situation from becoming much worse.

Today I’d like to reflect on three key things that are making a difference for the people of the Sahel.

First, the international community’s response underscored the vital importance of taking early action in response to early warnings. Thanks in large part to the USAID-funded Famine Early Warning System Network, we had a clear picture of worrisome trends by Fall 2011, enabling USAID to initiate our response by January 2012.

Early in the crisis we supported the local and regional procurement of food, cash transfers, agriculture and nutrition interventions, and, complementing that effort, we expedited shipments of in-kind food in time for the lean season.  Together these actions mitigated the use of negative coping strategies that perpetuate the cycles of poverty in the Sahel. All told, the U.S. government provided some $400 million in cash and in-kind assistance during the drought and early recovery period.

My visit to Burkina Faso and Niger last spring made clear just how much is at stake. Many of these families are in crisis for the third time since 2008. With millions still in need and the population in the Sahel anticipated to double by 2050, time is not on our side.

But that trip gave me hope because I saw USAID programs that enabled mothers, single women with large families, to not only endure but also provide for their children during yet another drought. Together we are making a difference. In early 2012, three out of four targeted households in Niger described their food security situation as poor. By October, that figure had dropped to one in ten. Monitoring conducted the same month found a gross mortality rate of 0.34 among beneficiary households compared to more than 1.0 among households that are not receiving our help.

This brings me to the second key element I want to highlight today: the new level to which international development partners came together in support of country-led plans that advance scalable solutions. This has been a game changer for the Resilience Agenda. Looking around, I see what has become our resilience road team, as we have been working together from Nairobi to Rome to Niamey and Ouagadougou. With strong support from the EU, the Global Alliance for Resilience (AGIR) in the Sahel helps bring us together to support these inclusive country-led plans to build resilience and stop the recurrent cycles of crisis and food insecurity. Together we undertook joint crop assessments across all Sahelian countries in Fall 2012 that indicate favorable results for cereal production and pastoralism and are informing our collective plans for the upcoming year. And as President Obama underscored in his State of the Union Address last week, the reality of climate change means these shocks are coming more intensely and more frequently, threatening precious development gains.

That’s why USAID decided to focus on the third area of progress I want to highlight: bringing our own relief and development teams together to achieve greater long-term impact. I am pleased to report that this is an area where we have made great strides. Of course our shared goal is for fewer people to need the assistance we work so hard to provide.  So in May 2012, USAID stood up a Sahel Joint Planning Cell, with our humanitarian and development teams sitting together to design a joint strategy with a common objective: to address the underlying causes of chronic vulnerability by reducing risk, building resilience, and facilitating inclusive economic growth.  The team has identified target livelihood zones in Niger and Burkina Faso where new investments will build on existing programs to reach an estimated 1.9 million beneficiaries.

USAID’s new projects lay down a goal of up to 400,000 fewer people requiring assistance during a drought of the magnitude we saw in 2011 and aim to help reduce persistently high Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rates that hover near 15% even during non-shock years. We see inclusive, effective governance as key and have put women at the heart of our approach as well as our wider resilience agenda.

This effort is being coordinated with regional institutions and partners at the national-level along the lines of the Nigeriens Feeding Nigeriens Initiative. Of course the problem is much larger than this one effort can ever solve, but it is a meaningful start and one that will help thousands endure the next inevitable drought.

The situation remains critical and our continued focus on a comprehensive approach is vital to making meaningful progress in the Sahel. Since last October, USAID has committed $66 million to the World Food Program to address this region’s food insecurity. And from here, I leave for Addis Ababa where we will look back at the Horn response and the challenges still ahead. USAID is committed to collaborating and innovating as we seek to realize results and build resilience to recurrent crisis in these regions of the world.

I want to close by thanking this group for the passion and leadership you have shown since we gathered here last. No doubt it will be needed to continue to drive this effort forward – and to scale up these solutions together, for the resilient people of the Sahel, who so surely deserve our unwavering commitment. Thank you.