Sahel: a permanent emergency?

Published: 26 February 2014 5:45 CET

Chiran Livera is the Operations Coordinator for the IFRC's regional office in the Sahel. Below, he explores the impact of recurring humanitarian aid in the Sahel, and if the Red Cross Red Crescent is doing enough. You can reach Chiran directly at

I stand on a hill overlooking the Niger river and it’s impressive to see how a flood can cause so much damage to an area that only a few months ago was experiencing drought.

As a disaster response manager with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), my role is to support National Societies when a disaster overwhelms them. In the Sahel region, this is a full time job as we have many disasters. In a single year, last year in fact, the region experienced drought, floods, epidemics and population movement with people fleeing their homeland for one reason or another. Some of the most vulnerable countries in Africa are in this region, with infrastructure and systems not able to manage the multitude of disasters. The Red Cross Red Crescent plays an important role, as National Societies have excellent volunteer networks and often partner with authorities and other agencies to help the vulnerable. This is key for us to use our relative strengths to reach more affected populations.

When a disaster happens, my first phone call is to the National Society to ask how they are coping and if there is anything IFRC can do. Many of the National Societies respond to disasters every week, away from the eyes of the media; it is only the large ones where they request assistance. We have excellent tools at the IFRC to support National Societies in times of disaster, whether it’s funds, prepositioned supplies, or technical staff. I manage this system and work to reinforce the local structures. In reality, volunteers at the community level do most of the field work and they appreciate the support.

In Niger, we are responding to flooding that occurred in several parts of the country. I am here to work with my colleagues to monitor the operation and see what improvements we need to make. The team tells me that people we’re assisting are happy with the support and are asking us to do more. This is the general feeling I get across the Sahel – that we need to do more to address the vulnerabilities. The people in Niger, similar to other countries in the region, experience the same types of disasters each year. Their resilience is being worn down and it is becoming more and more difficult for them to cope.

As I return to my office in Senegal, I reflect on this dilemma. Being effective to address the risks and vulnerabilities in the region is not easy, but we are making progress. Our disaster operations do save lives and give people an opportunity to play an important role in their own recovery.