Remarks by Ertharin Cousin at the 2013 High-Level Event on the Sahel

Delivered on: 20 February 2013


One year ago, this community of leaders gathered here and agreed on the need for a comprehensive, rapid and robust response in the Sahel to address immediate humanitarian needs and at the same time support programmes to strengthen resilience.

Today, we will review how far we have progressed towards the eleven steps identified in last year’s action plan.  We will also consider lessons learned and think ahead to what needs to be done differently.

We are joined this morning by high-level representatives from across the global community and the United Nations.  I thank you for convening here with us and for recognizing the importance of this conversation.

I will introduce each of the panel members as they speak.   We have a full schedule this morning, but we need to hear not only from our speakers, but also from you.

This community did respond differently in the Sahel.  Now we will take a moment to look back before we look forward, something that we as humanitarians don’t do enough.

This conversation includes leaders from both the humanitarian and development communities, because we recognize that to build resilience in the Sahel, just as in East Africa, we must not lock ourselves into single-organization silos.  We must work together. 

At the onset of the crisis, governments of the Sahel region developed national action plans based on food security and nutrition assessments.  Aligning with those plans, WFP assisted 10 million people through a three-phase response including relief and recovery components.

Nutrition and asset creation dominated the initial preparedness and mitigation phase, incentivized through transfers of food and cash to beneficiaries.  These actions encouraged many people not to migrate, and to instead remain in their communities, creating vital assets for the hunger season to come.

In the second phase of last year’s response, millions received food assistance, and blanket supplementary feeding protected children under two and pregnant and nursing women from falling into acute malnutrition.

In the third phase – the peak months from June to September – between five and six million people received support each month, helping to strengthen safety nets and reinforce community resilience.

Beginning in April, conflict in Mali triggered displacement; presenting additional needs and further complicating operations.  But as a community, we did not stop our resilience-building responses.

Our success was made possible not only through working together, but also because of the donor support we received, and donor recognition of the need to invest differently in the activities of all our organizations.  So, it is also important that we hear from the donors who are present with us today.

At the conclusion of the emergency response, we engaged actors at all levels – including beneficiaries, local and national governments and partners – in a review lessons learned

These reviews yielded valuable learning, including these insights:

1.      Working with governments, under their leadership, was essential to success;

2.      Early warning obtained through food security and nutrition assessments triggered early preparedness and preventive activities;

3.      Cash-based activities were able to scale up rapidly because of donor support;

4.      Analysis and periodic market assessments yielded better understanding and monitoring of market conditions; and

5.      For the first time, humanitarian partners had joint frameworks set out in interagency strategies and work plans, which were elaborated and coordinated at both country and regional levels.

Of course, there were also challenges.

Excess rainfall made accessing beneficiaries difficult and some roads impassable, impacting our ability to support vulnerable populations.

Another challenge, not unique to the Sahel, was the hurdle often created when market prices are too high for people to buy their food.  

We see malnutrition rates remaining high even in the post-harvest period.  So, we need to search deeper and continue to work to make progress.

While we saved many lives and protected many millions of children and women from experiencing acute malnutrition, we also took positive steps towards resilience-building. 

But we cannot stop, because resilience building is not a one year activity. We must continue to work together.   

For 2013, we recognize that these activities are impacted by the ongoing and evolving situation in northern Mali that could potentially affect our progress in that area. 

We are not naïve.  We appreciate the lessons learned, and we understand that there are still challenges with potential to push us backward.  But we must continue to move forward.

Many details of particular operations will be covered by other speakers through our discussions this morning.

To finish these opening remarks, I want to thank first and foremost the governments of the Sahel region who took a strong lead in the emergency, particularly the Government of Niger for establishing their 3N model. 

I also thank the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for their work in bringing this entire community together, and our United Nations and NGO country partners who are crucial for delivering food assistance to the hungry.

Now more than ever, we must act with real recognition and understanding that working together, we can and we will continue to make the difference that people need.