Humanitarian aid in the Sahel

The Red Cross is helping people through poverty, hunger and climate change.

The Sahel region is an area just south of the Sahara Desert, stretching from the West coast to the East coast of the African continent. Towards the west, the British Red Cross works in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, helping thousands of people every year.

These countries are exposed to some of the biggest crises and disasters in the world. Extreme hunger, poverty, conflict and climate change are key challenges, all of which are linked in a vicious cycle.

Local communities face new crises all the time, and the effects of Covid-19 pandemic has only made existing problems worse. But the people and communities of the Sahel are resilient, and with targeted support from the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, they are able to rebuild their lives.

Balkissa sits with her twin children on her knees as they face hunger in the Sahel.

Communities in The Sahel live in tough conditions, but are building resilience with the help of the Red Cross.

Arrow icon How the British Red Cross is helping

Arrow icon Supporting vulnerable migrants

Arrow icon Give cash, give dignity

Arrow icon Early action prevents disaster

Helping people earn a living and avoid hunger

Over the next few months, 7.8 million people across the Sahel will face extreme hunger. Vast numbers of children will become malnourished. But the chronic and recurrent food crises being experienced by Sahel countries can be prevented, and the British Red Cross is working at both regional, national and local levels for greatest impact.

A young boy walks across dry land in the Sahel.

Climate change is making conditions in the Sahel worse, creating large areas of arid land where no crops can grow.

Locally, we help people facing hunger by setting up Mothers’ Clubs. These are groups of 20-25 women who inform other members of the community on maternal and child health, hygiene, good nutrition practices, among other issues. Mothers’ Clubs also receive seed funding to start their own income-generating activities and eventually gain financial independence.

The British Red Cross is also supporting the setup of local, affordable surveillance systems across the region. These systems mean that local communities are able to inform relevant partners about worsening food crises, who can then take action.

map of West Africa showing Sahara Desert

The Sahel includes Mali, Niger, Chad and Sudan.

Supporting vulnerable migrants in the Sahel

Each year, thousands of people are forced to leave their homes in search for a better life, looking for work and safety in neighbouring African countries.

Along their journey, they are confronted with numerous dangers including exploitation and limited access to basic services. In most cases, the stress and trauma will impact mental health.

The British Red Cross is committed to helping vulnerable migrants in the Sahel. For several years, we have been leading a large humanitarian response that provides health services, psychosocial support, information and protection to vulnerable migrants on their journeys.

Give cash - give dignity

The British Red Cross is supporting people by providing cash grants -  an effective way of helping vulnerable people in many different crises.

Cash grants very important benefits. No family is the same, and by giving people cash instead of goods, they have the choice to spend the money on what best meets their needs. It protects their dignity and their right to make decisions about their own lives.

While food, schools and hospitals are available in the Sahel, poorer families had not previously had the means to access these resources. By providing cash grants, The British Red Cross ensures that vulnerable families are able to access these vital services.

Secondly, cash spending helps to keep local markets going, creating jobs and income in the communities.

The British Red Cross works with local Red Cross Red Crescent Societies, sharing skills, basic tools and agreements so they can act instantly when a disaster hits. In 2021, we have supported the RC/RC Societies of Chad and Mauritania to organise cash distributions to 1000 vulnerable families.

Aboutaye Magongi, 40, and her family pose outside their home in the village of Keiche, southern Niger.

Aboutaye Magongi and her children in Keiche, southern Niger. Aboutaye has a mobility condition and relies on extended family to stave off hunger. 

Preventing disasters through early action

We know that the Sahel countries often experience drought and irregular rainfall. Preparing for the next disaster is key.

The British Red Cross is trialling a new and innovative approach called Forecast-based Financing. The trial involves working together with the Niger Red Cross to identify the signs of drought and irregular rainfall ahead of time. We then draw up a plan of action for when these signs start to appear.  .

These early actions, to prevent the negative effects of drought, include distributing drought-resistant seeds for farmers and providing cash grants to families who lack food due to a bad harvest.

That way, we are sure to be able to act before drought leads to hunger.