Mali: In the face of drought, WFP works to ward off malnutrition

During the lean season, when food from the last harvest begins to run out, levels of malnutrition can nearly double. Any added stress during these difficult months can further threaten the health of already-vulnerable people. In Mali, WFP is working hard to make sure a grim situation does not get worse.

MOPTI - Perched on the side of the Bandiagara cliffs, the village of Sibi Sibi overlooks a dried creek bed. Drought has hit the village several times over the last decade, taking its toll on the livelihoods and health of the town’s 1,300 inhabitants.

Just two years ago, during the Sahel drought of 2012, Fanta Karembe, a 21-year old mother from Sibi Sibi, had to fight to survive a very tough lean season. Now, just as she was finally beginning to recover from the last crisis, drought has again hit her village.

In the Sahel, climate change is making weather increasingly unpredictable, and drought is becoming the rule more than the exception. Of the 21 municipalities of Bandiagara, 16 are suffering from drought this year, including Sibi Sibi.

An early lean season
While the lean season usually lasts from June through September, this difficult period started early this year. The few baskets of millet Fanta was able to harvest in November were barely enough to feed her children for two months.

“Each morning, my husband would open the cupboard and hand me a few ears of millet. I would grind the grain and go into the bush to pick some louwoto leaves [a kind of vine]. I would then use the leaves and millet flour to prepare couscous to feed my children,” she explains.

Despite her efforts, the food Fanta scraped together for her family was simply not sufficient to meet their needs. Her one-year old, Ali, fell sick frequently. “Every three days, I had to walk five kilometers to bring him to the health centre” says Fanta. “He lost weight and had frequent diarrhea.”

Right food, right place, right time
In February 2014, in partnership with World Vision and with contributions from France and the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (UN CERF), WFP began a project to prevent malnutrition across northern Mali, including Sibi Sibi. This programme, called blanket feeding, aims to reduce malnutrition during high-risk periods like the lean season.

Young children are of particular concern when it comes to malnutrition because their health can deteriorate faster and the risk of death is greater. Blanket feeding therefore targets children aged 6 to 23 months as well as pregnant women and nursing mothers.

“The key period to prevent malnutrition is from the time of conception up to a child’s second birthday.” Explains Niamke Ezoua Kodjo, Nutrition Specialist with WFP-Mali. “By investing in children during this important window, WFP is investing in their future,” he adds.

Since February, 80 children in the village have benefited from this project. They receive a monthly ration of enriched supplements, adapted specifically to their age group. “Since I started giving this food to my son, he has gained weight and is feeling a lot better,” Fanta says.

Impressive results
The health register in Sibi Sibi lists all the village’s cases of malnutrition month-by-month. In February, the register recorded 48 cases. Five months later, that number has dropped to just five.

In total this year, WFP’s work to prevent malnutrition has supported more than 100,000 children and 50,000 women across Mali.