Building resilience in Africa's desert through a twin track approach

Published: 27 January 2014 16:03 CET

Katherine Mueller, IFRC

When drought and food insecurity gripped the west African nation of Mauritania in 2011 and 2012, more than one million people were left without enough food or water. Children were among the hardest hit, with more than 110,000 under the age of five suffering from global acute malnutrition.

Providing emergency food supplies, while desperately needed, was considered a band-aid solution, that would ensure hungry stomachs were filled. But it would not address the long term challenges of recurring droughts. The Mauritanian Red Crescent Society and International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), committed to building resiliency among families, decided in their response to the drought, to adopt a twin-track approach; one that would tackle the immediate challenge of feeding starving people, while at the same time working with communities to reduce their vulnerability when drought next strikes.

“The twin track approach is a way of combining all the phases of assistance in a certain period of time,” said Denis Bariyanga, Operations Manager, IFRC. “In a crisis, there is emergency assistance that is done immediately. I can give an example of malnourished children who were in immediate need of food. But at the same time, we prepare and launch other activities to prevent other children or families from ending up in the same situation.”

Red Cross Red Crescent emergency efforts focused on providing food, cash for work, and screening and identifying children suffering from malnutrition. Long term projects were designed with sustainability in mind. Twenty-eight women’s cooperatives were provided technical guidance, 18 received vegetable seeds, 3 wells were rehabilitated and outfitted with solar panels to make gathering water easier, and goats were distributed to 283 families whose children were suffering from severe malnutrition.

“Food insecurity is a permanent issue in the region. That is why we have involved longtime solutions, longtime recovery to be sure that maybe even next year if the crisis comes back, communities will be able to cope,” said Bariyanga.

Success depended upon several factors, not least of which was having the community involved from the start. With many of the men away looking for work in the larger centers, the Mauritania Red Crescent focused its efforts on women.

“Communities have been trained. They have been involved since the beginning of the project, and they know what to do even when we are not there,” said Bariyanga.

“We will be able to keep this project running long after the Red Crescent leaves,” said Kate mint Baba ould Haiballa, who oversees the recently installed solar powered well in the village of Zemmou. “Four of us have been trained on how to operate, maintain and fix the solar panels. We have also decided that those who use this well will contribute financially every month. This money will help pay for any repairs.”