With desertification spreading fast because of climate change, drought is affecting millions of people. This is particularly painful for Africa – because the continent has contributed least to climate change, but suffers from it the most. It is shocking, but true: droughts in Africa account for 95% of the death toll caused by natural disasters.
I was recently in Niger, one of the poorest and driest countries in the world, situated in the region of Sahel, a large stretch of mainly arid and semi-arid land. The population there has always been vulnerable to droughts, but not to the degree we witness today. Although average rainfall levels have remained steady, the arrival of rains has become less predictable, and they often come in very short and heavy bouts, which wash away seeds and destroy crops.
Travelling across the barren landscape of the Sahel, I saw how challenging it is to live off such a harsh and dry land. Hunger was again showing its ugly head, and the number of malnourished children was increasing. Both people and animals were affected – for nomads, for whom their herds are their source of life, losing a cow is a bad as losing a child. Drought means no pasture, and no pasture means no cattle, no food and no future.
Earlier this month we took the decision to allocate an additional €24 million to be used in assisting over seven million vulnerable people affected by the food crisis in the Sahel. (See Press Release) Today we have made a decision to provide € 20 million to help populations in the Greater Horn of Africa deal with droughts. We hope to reach out to some 12 million people in Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda (See Press Release). Our goal is to help communities adapt to increasingly severe and unpredictable weather patterns. Teaching water-management techniques and encouraging the use of drought resistant seeds can strengthen communities’ resistance to drought. Establishing early warning systems can ensure that aid gets to those who need it quickly and efficiently – before it is too late.
But the best way to help is to alter our lifestyles to be more in tune with nature and do our bit for the environment, so droughts don’t expand on the back of spreading deserts.