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Unpredictable Climate Threaten Nomadic Way of Living  


For nomadic herders in the Sahel region of West Africa, this year's drought is devastating. Over the past years, rain in the sparsely populated areas of this vast region has become increasingly unpredictable and erratic. Recurrent droughts have significantly reduced harvests and extended hunger gaps. Lack of pasture, which is critical for the well-being of the livestock on which nomadic families depend for food and income, has decimated livestock and pushed tens of thousands of families into hunger. 

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For the nomadic population living in thearid regions of eastern Mali and Niger, understanding weather patterns andannual seasons is vital to their existence. However, unpredictable variationsin weather patterns due to climate change are making it ever harder for vulnerable communities to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.

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Whilst there are immediate and specific impacts caused by a one off drought, such as increased deaths among humans and animals, climatic events also create far-reaching social and economic shifts which exacerbate the situation further, pushing increasing numbers of families into poverty and at increased risk of undernutrition. 

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Communities witnessed the loss of many animals and people in the big droughts of 1972-74, 1986-9, 1993 or 2004-5 Now they have to deal with constant scarcity, rains arriving late, as well as hotand ferocious winds that dry up the grazing grass within days.

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Nomadic herders point out that the old ways of life are being undermined by increasingly frequent hazards eventuated by climate change. In focus groups like the one pictured, Action Against Hunger staff listen how different households adapt and cope with changes

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The once large and diverse herds of the nomads have been severely reduced by the “dry” years of the late 80s and 90s.Trying to increase the numbers within herds in the aftermath of a big drought is a long and difficult process: buying young and healthy animals is beyond the means of all but the wealthiest.

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For nomadic communities, losing their animals signifies losing their ability to move from place to place in search of water and pasture. The prolonged presence of animals and humans around limited water points leads to increasing overgrazing, deforestation, and conflict overthe usage of wide plains.

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Providing water to animals is hard work. On average, men spend six to seven hours lifting water from deep wells up to 80 metres into the ground. Most of the year it is only these few deep wells that guarantee water to the herds throughout the dry seasons.

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Feeding only on limited reserves of straw and water, animals lose much of their body weight in the dry season. This makes animals weak and vulnerable to diseases, which subsequently affects the value and prices these animals may fetch at the market. This in turn affects the livelihood of their keepers and their communities.

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Big trucks for crossing the desert to access larger markets are a luxury reserved for a minority of wealthy families living in towns. Many nomadic herders are forced to sell their livestock to middlemen on local markets loosing out on significantly higher prices in urbanmarkets.

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A lack of cash equals a lack of nutritious food that a family is able to purchase. Millet with water and salt is often the only meal in the day. For families with few female goats, cows or sheep the supply of milk and meat is a rare addition to their diets.

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Most families survive on a bland and monotonous diet, with hardly any fresh produce. A survey carried out in Niger revealed that 4 out of 5 children relied on an ever repeating diet of watery millet porridge for most of the dry season which can last up to 8 months.

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The lack of variety in a diet may result in undernutrition in vitamins and minerals even though it may be adequate in calories. It exposes children to heightened risks of contracting and recovering from illnesses and impairs their resilience.

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It doesn’t take much for a common illness to escalate into a dangerous situation in these already weak bodies. Common childhood illenesses such as fever or diarrhoea can be sufficient to causeweight loss and leave these children dangerously wasted.

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In Niger, the “hunger seasons” are predictable. Tens of thousands of children fall ill with acute malnutrition year after year. It does not need to come to this. Creating employment opportunities through innovative schemes that exchange labour for food or cash protects access to food and can be used to conserve the environment.

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By offering employment opportunities, women can be effectively empowered, as it provides an alternative income in what is essentially a very male dominated market and agricultural system. Allowing women the power to manage their own money, has been proven to be an effectiveway to help prevent hunger

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Life on the edges of the desert is dependent on understanding how to make use of scarce resources. In partner shipwith local organisations and state institutions, Action Against Hunger is treating hundreds of children who have fallen ill with malnutrition as well as supporting women, families and communities in dealing with the root causes of child malnutrition.

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