Perched on the side of the Bandiagara cliffs in northern Mali, the village of Sibi Sibi overlooks a dried creek bed. Drought has hit the village several times over the last decade, taking its toll on the livelihoods and health of the town’s 1,300 inhabitants.
Just two years ago, during the Sahel drought of 2012, Fanta Karembe, a twenty-one-year old mother from Sibi Sibi, had to fight to survive. Now, just as she was finally starting to recover from the last crisis, drought has again hit her village.
In the Sahel, effects of climate change are clearly apparent with drought becoming the rule rather than the exception. Out of 21 municipalities in Bandiagara, 16 are suffering from drought this year, including Sibi Sibi.
During the lean season, when food from the last harvest begins to run out, levels of malnutrition can nearly double. Any added stress during these difficult months can further threaten the health of already-vulnerable people.
The World Food Program (WFP), with support from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), is working hard to make sure that the situation does not deteriorate in Mali. In January 2014, CERF allocated US$11.5 million from its Underfunded Emergencies window to help humanitarian partners such as WFP sustain critical aid operations in Mali.
An early lean season
While the lean season usually lasts from June through September, it started early this year. The few baskets of millet Fanta was able to harvest in November were barely enough to feed her children.
“Each morning, my husband would open the cupboard and hand me a few ears of millet. I would grind the grain and go into the bush to pick some louwoto leaves [a type of vine]. I would then use the leaves and millet flour to prepare couscous to feed my children,” she explains.
Despite her efforts, the food Fanta managed to scrape together did not meet her family’s needs. Her one-year old, Ali, fell sick frequently. “Every three days, I had to walk five kilometers to bring him to the health centre” says Fanta. “He lost weight and had frequent diarrhea.”
In February 2014, in partnership with World Vision and with contributions from CERF and other donors, WFP began a project to prevent malnutrition across northern Mali, including Sibi Sibi. This programme, called blanket feeding, aims to reduce malnutrition during high-risk periods like the lean season.
Young children are of particular concern when it comes to malnutrition because their health can deteriorate faster and the risk of death is greater. Blanket feeding targets children aged 2 to 6 as well as pregnant women and nursing mothers.
“The key period to prevent malnutrition is from the time of conception up to a child’s second birthday,” explains Niamke Ezoua Kodjo, Nutrition Specialist with WFP-Mali. “By investing in children during this important window, WFP is investing in their future,” he adds.
Since February, 80 children in the village have benefited from this project. They receive a monthly ration of enriched supplements, adapted specifically to their age group. “Since I started giving this food to my son, he has gained weight and is feeling a lot better,” Fanta says.
The health register in Sibi Sibi lists all the village’s cases of malnutrition month-by-month. In February, the register recorded 48 cases. Five months later, that number has dropped to just five.
This year alone, WFP’s work to prevent malnutrition has supported more than 100,000 children and 50,000 women across Mali.