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2. A history of aid

Post-independence through the 1968-1973 drought
Institutional responses to the drought



In looking at the current situation in the Sahelian countries it is important to realize that the present systems of organization and administration, while essentially based on a European model, have not been imposed on an unstructured amalgam of nomads and agriculturalists. Rather, current boundaries and political structures are the uppermost layer of history in a region that has already experienced at least a thousand years of kingdoms and empires. These large, relatively sophisticated political entities were established not just to resist outside influence and provide protection but also to regulate trade and commerce. For example, the kingdoms of Kanem, north of Lake Chad, and Ghana, on the upper reaches of the Senegal River, were already well established by the tenth century, and they served as the initial focus for trans-Saharan trade once North Africa was organized into Muslim dynasties. Here the exchange of gold from the south for salt from the north was carried out, and the profits from this and other types of commerce supported the development of towns, palaces, and a productive agriculture. Even through the early period of European settlement and trade, the succession of empires and ethnic groups controlling this commerce remained relatively undisturbed. There was, however, a continuing displacement of people to the south, where they pushed against the mostly forested coastal states (Davidson 1974). European presence was established by the Portuguese as far north as the Gambla River by 1500, but this was limited to small-scale trading and had virtually no effect on the interior. The Portuguese were then pushed out of the West African trade by the Dutch, and the large profits available through the growing slave trade subsequently attracted English and French traders, who were in turn supported by their respective royal navies.

From 1677 the French dominated trade north of the Gambia, in the area of the Senegal River, with the primary exports being hides and gum arable. More established settlement was hindered by occasional British occupation of the French forts, but the relatively limited commercial possibilities (i.e., comparatively poor supplies of slaves and gold) led to a failure of the British colony of Senegambia and continued dominance by French traders (Davidson 1974).

In the hinterland these coastal struggles had little effect. More important was the occupation of the Niger bend by Moroccan tribes and the overall shift in the balance of power from the southern, more Negroid ethnic groups to the northern Islamic groups, such as the Fulani and the Hausa, which had adopted Islam. It was these groups, often operating under the call of jihad or holy war, that conquered and dominated the West African interior, although subsequent conversion of the rural population to Islam did not always succeed. Attacks were made against French traders at the mouths of the Senegal and Gambia rivers in the mid-nineteenth century, but these were unsuccessful.

In the latter part of the nineteenth century the mad scramble for colonies and land escalated. The British tried to consolidate their hold in the coastal states and move inland, while the French used the Senegal and Niger river systems to push far into the interior and take over what became the French Sudan and Niger, and to completely surround the British colony along the Gambia River. In 1885 the Berlin conference was convened by the European powers to settle conflicting claims and allocate the remaining interior lands. It was at this conference and the 1898 Niger Convention - with no African representatives present and with disregard for existing ethnic boundaries- that many of the national boundaries were established which persist to this day. As a result of this partitioning, France found itself with a tremendous area of sparsely populated land that presented limited possibilities for development.

In both the British and the French colonies it was a cardinal rule that the colonies should not constitute a financial burden on the homeland. Since colonial income was derived primarily from taxes on foreign trade and direct taxation of the more prosperous coastal population, the colonies soon had to be grouped together administratively, with the richer coastal states supporting the administration in the poorer interior. The French established a governor-general at Dakar, with the long-term goal that the colonies should become part of a greater France. In 1910 French policy towards the colonies was defined as "the greatest administrative, economic and financial independence which is compatible with the greatest political dependence" (Roberts 1974).

In the late 1870s trade in French West Africa totalled $8 million per year, three-quarters of which originated from Senegal. This slowly increased to $14 million by 1897, or less than one dollar per capita. Between 1880 and 1924 a railroad was built from the coast to the upper Niger, but the only profitable portion was the section within Senegal that carried groundnuts for export. Given the distance and environmental conditions in the interior, the French strategy shifted over this period from "opening up" French Sudan (Mali), Upper Volta (Burkina Faso), and Niger to a policy that more closely resembled benign neglect. In the coastal and more productive areas, agricultural production (cash crops) was encouraged (Wade 1974; Franke and Chasin 1980). Both Senegal and Gambia thrived on groundnut exports, and the emerging role of the interior was to provide basic foodstuffs for the Senegalese farmers so that they could concentrate on cash crops for export. One notable exception in the interior was the Office du Niger, which was a large-scale effort begun in 1929 to grow irrigated rice and cotton by tenant farmers. Inspired to a certain extent by the Gezira scheme in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, the project required an investment of 340 million French francs and was planned to cover 500,000 hectares. The project, however, rarely turned a profit, and by 1958 the cultivated area had declined to 34,000 ha of rice, 8,800 ha of cotton and 8,700 of "cultures diverges"; 32,500 people were involved, and losses were running at 100-200 million francs per year (Hansson 1960). Overall, outside investment in the French colonies totalled $155 million by 1936, which was only 25 per cent of the amount the British colonies in West Africa had been able to attract. Total trade increased from $58 million in 1912-1913 to $600 million in 1956-1957, and this provided France with as much as $315 million per year in government revenue, or about $17 per capita.

From 1929 the British slowly began to change their policies and provide their colonies with some of the funds needed for economic development. This concept was fully embraced by the French after World War II, when $1,100 million was allocated for investment in the West African colonies over the period 1946-1955. Associated with this economic aid was a general French policy of maintaining tight political and economic control over the colonies, which was accomplished through a variety of means. Only the educated elite were allowed to vote, resulting in only token African representation in the French parliament. Educational opportunities were extremely limited, probably because of both economic and political considerations. The first university in French West Africa was established in 1950, but at this time school enrolment was only 1.7 per cent and concentrated almost entirely in the coastal cities. Thus, by independence in 1960 there were only 1,800 university graduates in all French West Africa, or less than 0.01 per cent of the total population.

In 1958 the French colonies were offered a plebiscite by General de Gaulle to decide between full independence or an association with France in a Franco-African community. While only Guinea voted for full and immediate independence (Bon and Mingst 1980), the other colonies rapidly escalated their demands with regard to self-determination. Mali and Senegal joined together and pushed for full independence before renegotiating any continuing ties with France. They were then joined by each of the other territories, and by 1960 all the former French colonies were suddenly independent. The Mali-Senegal alliance then foundered, and the concept of a greater France was lost to history. Thus, with little preparation and less infrastructure, a series of independent countries were formed. Their leaders then had to cope with the high expectations of newly independent nations in a situation of rapid population growth, often combined with economic stagnation. Political leaders also had to overcome ethnic and religious loyalties that were usually stronger than the nascent concept of nationhood. In view of this background, it should not be surprising that political leadership for most of the period since independence can be characterized as either a rapid succession of coups and governments or the extreme stability of a single, charismatic leader.


Post-independence through the 1968-1973 drought

Immediately following independence a set of bilateral agreements were established between France and its former colonies, covering the entire spectrum of relations, from economic to cultural to military. These agreements perpetuated an unequal relationship and were therefore increasingly resented (Lateef 1980).

Economically, the countries' dependence on France in the early years was nearly total, and this pattern of dependence has proved very difficult to break. In contrast to the former English colonies, each of which had to establish its own currencies and fiscal policies, France established a "Franc Zone" in West Africa that provided security in exchange for a certain level of dependency. Within the Franc Zone the exchange rate between the French franc and the local currency (West African franc) was fixed and credit guaranteed, thereby stabilizing and ensuring the value of the West African franc. In return, the countries had to accept a variety of fiscal restrictions, including the condition that all government reserves must be held in French francs and all foreign exchange dealings must be handled through Paris. In the mid-1960s Mali, as part of a general move to lessen its dependence on France, withdrew from the collective Franc Zone. Over the next few years the economic disruption was such that Mali eventually had to swallow its national pride and re-enter the Franc Zone, but with its Mali franc, originally at parity, only half the value of the common West African franc. On the other hand, Mauritania broke away from the Franc Zone in 1972 and has succeeded in establishing its own national currency. Robarts (1974) characterized the system as providing some economic stability and reducing the runaway inflation which characterizes so many other developing countries, but at the price of perpetuating French influence.

In short, in the first decade following independence France (and the United Kingdom in the case of the Gambia) was still responsible for virtually all development assistance and budgetary support. Sensitive to the charge of neocolonialism and economic domination, a 1963 French policy report noted that free trade between the former French colonies and the industrialized countries was essential in order for the developing countries to obtain machinery and other materials necessary for economic growth. Co-operation was the suggested approach, and this was subsequently adopted as the basis for the French foreign aid programme (Lateef 1980).

Although few specific figures are available, France's total foreign aid in 1960 was 1.4 per cent of its gross national product, which is twice the current UN target for aid from the industrialized countries and four times the present US level. Since independence there has been a slow shift of French personnel and support from the educational and administrative infrastructure to more specialized development planning and technical aid (Roberts 1974). Lateef (1980) notes that even in 1975, 72 per cent of all technical assistance personnel supplied by countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) were in the Sahel. Some 20-30 per cent of these OECD personnel in the Sahel were serving in the civil service in ordinary operational posts - a form of assistance normally avoided by both developing countries and donors. Lopez et al. (1980) note that the French emphasis in the 1960s on educational assistance served to preserve and reinforce French cultural influence, as well as compensate for the failure to promote higher education during the colonial period.

As for other donors, in the mid-1960s the United States decided to concentrate its aid efforts on what it identified as ten key, Western-oriented African countries, none of which were in the Sahel. Thus US aid to Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Upper Volta from 1962 through 1973 totalled $175 million, or somewhat over $7 per capita for the twelve-year period, while aid to the ten emphasis countries totalled more than $3 billion, or approximately $18 per capita (using 1970 population figures). From 1953 to 1972 development support to the Sahelian countries from international organizations (i.e., multilateral aid) added up to $800 million (Sheets and Morris 1974).

The shortcomings of the political and administrative infrastructure made it very difficult for the Sahelian countries to compete with the more "sophisticated" developing countries when applying for aid from multilateral agencies such as the United Nations. (At that time, aid was generally distributed on a competitive bidding arrangement. The resulting inequities led to the present system of allocation as exemplified by the United Nations Development Programme; see chap.3). Only Senegal, through a combination of factors - more trained personnel, a better infrastructure, a greater capability to provide a counterpart contribution, and, not least, a pleasant climate - was able to attract funding proportional to its size. Otherwise France (and the United Kingdom in the case of the Gambia) was the economic lifeline, the ultimate source of expertise and financial support for the Sahelian countries.

During this transition from colonial status to independence, the Sahel was fortunate in that the period 1956-1965 was, on the whole, the wettest period of this century. Animal herds multiplied because of both better pastures and the provision of veterinary services; sedentary farmers pushed north in search of new and better land (Matlock and Cockrum 1976). Rules to control land use were promulgated, indicating some awareness of the fragility of the Sahel, but these were relatively ineffective (FAO 1965). Several authors(Wade 1974; Franke and Chasin 1980) indicate that the movement of farmers onto drier, more marginal lands was due at least in part to the pressure, often exerted through official channels, to use the best lands for cash crops such as cotton and groundnuts. From 1960 to 1965 agricultural production increased 10-20 per cent in all the Sahelian countries except Chad, thereby more than compensating for population growth.

In 1966 and 1967 the rains across the Sahel were, if not as abundant as in the previous years, at least reasonably well spaced and sufficient to maintain the existing intensity of land use. In 1968, however, the rains came heavy and early, and then stopped in May. Seedlings withered and died before the rains returned in June, and the late replanting led to below-average crop yields and poor pastures. As noted in the Niger case study (UNCOD 1977a), agrostological studies concluded that over-grazing was not occuring except in localized areas (e.g. in the immediate vicinity of boreholes) as long as the rainfall was plentiful. But once the rains were irregular and did not exceed the annual average, carrying capacity dropped, and by the end of the dry season (early 1969) the first animals were dying of hunger. Mali, Niger, and Senegal asked the US government for food sufficient for a million people, and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) responded with $2.6 million of food aid (Sheets and Morris 1974).

In 1969 rainfall was more evenly distributed in time, but in some areas it was quite deficient. The Agadez area in Niger received only half its annual mean of 164 mm, with 62 per cent of this coming in August. In contrast, Marnham (undated) reported - without explanation - that rainfall in the Sahel was 99 per cent of the 50 year average. Widespread food deficits were not apparent, and only $600,000 of emergency food aid was provided by the United States. Still a livestock loss of nearly 30 per cent was reported in the Sahara-Sahelian zone of Niger, and losses were approximately 12 per cent in the Sudano-Sahelian zone (UNCOD 1977a).

In 1970 there was a dramatic decline in precipitation, with many stations recording record low rainfall levels. Not only did this drastically reduce forage and crop production, but it also meant that there was very little recharge of lakes, rivers, and soil moisture. Those farmers and pastoralists who had moved further north during the good years were the hardest hit. When the mediocre 1969 harvest was exhausted, many people had little choice but to move their animals and families south. An estimated 3 million people in Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Upper Volta were in need of emergency food aid. According to Sheets and Morris (1974), the United States was again the major donor. Originally USAID was to "sell" 200,000 tons of grain in Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Upper Volta in order to stabilize prices, and use the proceeds to improve the production, storage, and marketing of crops. However, the situation during the 1970/71 dry season was so severe that most of the grain was simply used for emergency grants. Similarly, as a result of the drought, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) was experiencing difficulties in carrying out its intended food-for-work programme. In some projects it was necessary to distribute the food to a wider segment of the population than originally intended, so the distribution period was shortened accordingly. In other cases the WFP reports indicate that individual rations were reduced as a means of stretching the designated supplies and to achieve the desired goals (cf. WFP reports on individual projects). Altogether by mid-1971 $16 million of emergency aid had been dispatched to the Sahel (Sheets and Morris 1974).

Again in 1971 rainfall was below average. Lake Chad shrank to one-third its normal size. Officially recognizing the cumulative effect of four years of poor rainfall, the Director-General of FAO said that the Sahel required "special treatment" in the provision of emergency aid. Presumably this meant that the requirements for counterpart assistance were reduced and more flexibility was provided to the director of the World Food Programme in order to provide needed food quickly.

Altogether the total crop deficit from the 1971 harvest was estimated at 80,000 metric tons. The United States pro vided emergency aid for some 500,000 people in 1971, and the WFP authorized 55,000 tons of grain worth nearly $9 million. Although it is not generally appreciated, this latter grant was in addition to the $3.5 million of emergency assistance already committed to the Sahel, and together these represented over 10 per cent of WFP emergency aid from 1963 to 1972 (FAO 1973).

As in previous years, the people themselves undertook a number of steps to alleviate the situation. Livestock were shifted south, and perhaps more people than usual migrated to the coastal states to look for wage labour. Redistribution of food within countries, ethnic groups, and families helped alleviate local shortages In short, people utilized a number of social and economic mechanisms to adjust to a more persistent episode of a periodic hazard.

In 1972 the summer monsoon rains were well below average, causing widespread crop failure and poor pasture growth. The poor harvest and meagre fodder resources meant that a substantial amount of food would be required to carry the population through to the next harvest, but food and capital reserves, both formal and informal, were already seriously depleted. At this stage, in the autumn of 1972 the impending calamity was recognized in the field and it could be seen that the Sahelian countries had little choice but to request outside assistance. However, for a variety of reasons, it took six months before the by-then realized tragedy was officially recognized by the governments involved and then the United Nations (Sheets and Morris 1974; Brown 1977). Because of international protocol, the various multilateral and bilateral agencies could act only after the Sahelian governments had declared a disaster and requested help, and this initial declaration was not made until March 1973 - whether because of internal political reasons, a lack of accurate information, or bureaucratic delays, is unclear.

Both Sheets and Morris (1974), reporting on US efforts, and Brown (1977), evaluating the UN response, heavily criticized the concerned agencies for bureaucratic squabbling and a lack of preparedness. Only in the spring of 1973, seven months after the disastrous 1972 harvest, did the administrative machinery, finally having the political will and necessary authorization, begin to take positive action. Then the unavoidable delays in obtaining, shipping, and distributing food resulted in only minimal supplies becoming available until May or even June 1973. Grain then began pouring into the major West African ports, but the combination of an inadequate overland transport system and the first rains of the new rainy season meant that expensive airlifts were required to deliver the food to some outlying areas. In general the infrastructure was simply inadequate to put the right food in the right place at the right time. Furthermore, the traditional enmity between nomads and farmers meant that distribution was biased, causing substantially higher death rates for nomads than for the rest of the population.

TABLE 8. Donor food-aid commitments to the Sahel, crop year 1973 (October 1972 - September 1973) (metric tons)

Donor Mali Niger Senegal Upper Volta Mauritania Chad Total
United States 55,250 68,250 45,000 41,250 33,250 8,000 251,000
EEC 35,000 14,500 17,000 15,000 5,000 6,000 92,500
France 10,000 10,000 8,000 9,500 8,000 9,000 54,500
China 10,000 10,000 10,000 5,000 8,000 4,000 47,000
FRG 5,210 7,420 7,000 3,000 9,000 - 31,630
Canada 5,000 5,500 4,000 4,500 5,000 2,000 26,000
USSR 13,000 2,500 2,000 2,500 3,000 2,000 25,000
Other - - - - - - -
Total 133,460 118,170 93,000 80,750 71,250 31,000 602,000

Source: El-Khawas 1976

Food distribution to the sedentary population was generally much more satisfactory, with measles probably being the major cause of death. This is especially ironic since a large USAID/WHO vaccination project had been conducted in the late 1960s. The summary of a US Center for Disease Control report stated, "A contributing factor in the current measles epidemic is the large reservoir of susceptible children which accumulated following a decrease in emphasis on measles immunization after the mass vaccination campaigns recently conducted in West Africa" (Sheets and Morris 1974).

The overall food deficit resulting from the disastrous 1972 harvest was estimated at 900,000 tons, but, according to ElKhawas (1976), only 602,000 tons of food were committed in aid (table 8). Since much of this arrived late, it must be assumed that a variety of other mechanisms were operating to cope with the shortage (e.g., commercial imports, migration, accelerated slaughtering of animals). In addition, private relief organizations were soliciting contributions specifically for the Sahel by mid 1973, and these largely undocumented activities may have helped reduce the shortfall. FAO (1975) records show that the WFP contributed 57,000 tons in calendar year 1973, but it is unclear when this was actually dispatched. Table 8 indicates donor commitments for the 1973 crop year, but this does not necessarily correspond to the amount of grain actually received and distributed in the Sahelian countries.

In addition to the contributions of food, 63 aircraft were made available from twelve different countries, and these carried some 20,000 tons of emergency food aid between May and October 1973. Trucks, railroads, and even camel caravans carried the remainder. As detailed by Brown (1977), much of the grain piled up at the West African ports because of the limited road and railroad capacity as well as sporadic shortages of fuel. Total relief aid for 1973 was estimated at $150 million, with 17 per cent of this spent for airlifts and 10 per cent for other means of transportation. On a per ton basis, airlifts were roughly 35 times as expensive as ground transport.

The 1973 rainy season was again well below average, and crop yields were further reduced by a lack of seed for planting and by the large-scale movement of farmers to the cities and refugee camps, where food was generally more abundant. The total deficit between the 1973 and 1974 harvests (crop year 1974) was estimated at 1.12 million metric tons of food grains and cereals, but even this poor harvest provided a temporary supply of food in many rural areas. The new crop of grass also provided some fodder for those who still had animals. Because of this seasonal availability of food, together with the ongoing relief effort, fears that millions would die of famine were stilled. However, the nomads in the outlying camps, who had neither crops nor animals, would continue to suffer from malnutrition several more months (Sheets and Morris 1974).

To meet the 1973 deficit of 1.12 million metric tons, 613,337 metric tons were donated and 266,908 metric tons were purchased (using primarily donated funds). Another 239,382 metric tons became available as part of earlier pledges and donations that did not arrive until after October 1973. Table 9 indicates the source and destination of food aid for the crop year 1974.

On the donor side, officials tended to be misinformed or to overstate the problem and their efforts to alleviate the situation. UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim was quoted in 1974 as saying, "The encroachment of the desert threatens to wipe four or five African countries from the map" (Lateef 1980). A memo to US President Nixon dated 19 August 1973 claimed, ". . . mass famine - which threatened millions some weeks ago - has been averted" (Sheets and Morris 1974). In reality, there was indeed a tremendous amount of food aid committed and in transit, but it had not reached many of the more remote settlements in sufficient quantities to claim that famine had been averted.

TABLE 9. Donor food-aid commitments to the Sahel, crop year 1974 (November 1973 - October 1974) (metric tons)

Donor Mali Niger Senegal Upper Volta Mauritania Chad Non-allocated Total
United States 69,000 83,804 4,940 17,525 34,734 20,000 - 230,003
EEC 26,000 30,000 15,000 15,000 14,000 10,000 - 110,000
France 10,000 10,000 6,000 9,000 10,000 8,000 21,500 74,500
FRG 10,000 10,000 - 3,000 10,000 - 2,000 35,000
Canada 11,917 8,298 2,458 4,580 6,060 4,878 - 38,191
USSR 10,000 - - - - - - 10,000
China - - - 5,000 6,000 - - 11,000
WFP 8,000 15,946 5,060 2,475 - - - 31,481
Denmark 4,000 2,000 10,000 2,000 5,000 - - 23,000
Belgium 3,000 5,000 1,900 2,000 1,500 - - 13,400
Others 15,217 4,402 1,927 - 7,250 966 7,000 36,762
101,184 23,000 109,700 20,000 10,000 3,024 - 266,908
Subtotal 268,318 192,450 156,985 80,580 104,544 46,868 30,500 880,245
Pipeline from
November 1973
63,524 27,782 52,570 38,877 39,269 17,360 -239,382  
Total 331,842 220,232 209,555 119,457 143,813 64,228 30,500 1,119,627

Source: El-Khawas 1976

While the actual number of deaths due to famine is not known, an American medical team extrapolated from the highest observed death rate in the relief camps to the entire non-sedentary population of Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Upper Volta. The resulting estimate of 101,200 deaths sets an upper limit well below the levels mentioned in early press reports on the drought (Sheets and Morris 1974). The mortality levels observed by this team were corroborated by an independent survey in Mauritania (Greene 1975). This upper limit of mortality must be taken cautiously, however, as it was obtained by applying the highest death rates measured at a cluster of camps in northern Niger to the entire nomadic population. Not only is this a questionable procedure, but estimates of the nomadic population are themselves very rough. Both surveys recognized tremendous variability in the nutritional status of nomads, and this variability was reflected in mortality rates in the different camps. Current opinion is that between 50,000 and 100,000 deaths occurred as a result of the drought (Club du Sahel/CILSS 1980).

A review of the various emergency relief measures suggests that emergency aid is based not only on humanitarian concerns but also on political will. For example, US relief efforts in 1 973 were constrained by the fact that two-thirds of all relief efforts were being directed to Viet Nam. Chad refused food aid from the United States because of criticism in the US press of the handling of relief efforts in Chad, and from the Federal Republic of Germany because of problems with a German hostage. Throughout the drought the Sahelian countries declined to reveal the level of their commercial food imports; this could be attributed either to their desire to maximize contributions or to an unwillingness to define precisely the extent of their agricultural failures. There was also an initial preference on the part of the Sahelian governments for requesting aid on a bilateral basis rather than issuing broad appeals for assistance (Lateef 1980).

By late 1973 the international relief movement had begun to sort itself out and resolve the problems of co-ordination and distribution that plagued initial efforts. Instead of individual surveys and pledges, the major donors began to undertake "multi-donor" missions, in which they would collectively estimate the harvest and food needs of each country and balance their estimates against government requests. In this way the donation process also became more organized, and a spirit of co-operation developed which was to be essential in implementing the forthcoming structural changes in the allocation of international aid.

It is an interesting reflection on previous aid that throughout the drought the primary cause of death for livestock was starvation and not thirst. Losses, as might be expected, were higher in the more arid northern areas. In general cattle populations suffered the most, with up to 100 per cent losses in some areas, while camels and goats fared somewhat better. FAO estimated the overall loss of cattle in 1972-1973 in the Sahelian countries at 3.5 million head, or 25 per cent. Cattle losses were estimated at 20-50 per cent in Mauritania and Niger, 20-40 per cent in Mali and Chad, and 10-20 per cent in Upper Volta. This does not include the accelerated slaughter that probably took place as herders realized their animals might not survive the next dry season (USAID 1980b). Sheep and goat losses were put at an average of 10 per cent (Club du Sahel/CILSS 1980).

As their animals died off, many of the nomads moved south and into the larger towns, where emergency supplies were more readily available. Interviews by Laya (1975) provide fascinating accounts of the drought, with many of the respondents reporting losses of all but one or two animals. Attitudes towards returning north and resuming their traditional life-style were highly variable, with some herders saying they would not return even if they were provided with animals, while others said they would do whatever the government told them. From the 29 interviews it is clear that the farmers and herders went to refugee camps only when they were absolutely destitute and that they accepted the drought without question. Many of them simply ascribed the drought to the will of Allah. Ethnic differences were also expressed; for example, in Niger the Fulani, having fewer ties to a given region and herding more mobile cattle, tended to move quickly into Nigeria or Cameroon, while the Tuareg stayed as long as possible in their traditional homeland.

In 1974, six years after the drought began, the situation began to improve with generally adequate rains (Allen 1974). However, the Sahel-wide 25 per cent loss of livestock, the presence of many farmers in refugee camps, and the lack of farm inputs meant that it would take more than one good year to return to previous production levels. With the procuring, shipping, and distribution of food supplies reasonably well in hand, attention shifted to the recovery and rehabilitation of the Sahel.

One of the first controversies that arose was over the climatic patterns in the Sahel - how often does such a drought occur, and will the drought itself trigger other changes to exacerbate the situation? In regard to the first question, Winstanley (1976) says that six consecutive years of below-median rainfall will occur every 70 years On the other hand, the Niger study on desertification calculated that the chances of a drought similar to that of 1970-1973 are 1 in 2,400 (UNCOD 1977a). No real evidence was found for substantial climatic change, especially as annual variability is so very large and records relatively short (Seifert and Kamrany 1974). Similarly, fears that changes in albedo occurring as a result of the drought would lead to changing rainfall patterns seemed unjustified, for in 1975 and 1976 above-average rainfall fell in much of the Sahel.

It is clear, however, that for a period of five or six years during the drought the low-rainfall isohyets moved further south, in effect increasing the area of the "desert" (defined as land having less than 100 mm of rain) by an estimated 500,000 km2. In Niger, for example, the 100-mm isohyet moved approximately 200 km southwards, while the 350mm isobyet shifted about 150 km. In contrast, the higher rainfall areas (>1,000 mm) experienced normal or higher rainfall during the Sahelian drought. Thus the isohyets from 100 to 800 mm not only shifted south but also came closer together, thereby increasing the steepness of the rainfall gradient from north to south (table 10).

This climatic explanation of the drought does not provide a full accounting for the tremendous impact the drought had on the rural population. As suggested earlier, the effects of the drought must be measured in the context of the large increase in human and livestock populations over the previous decade, and the expansion of dryland farming onto normally unproductive lands. If these factors did exacerbate the impact of the short-term decline in rainfall, it needs to be asked what the causes of these trends were- whether a desire to increase cash-crop production, better health care and medical services, a change in farming practices, or economic incentives to increase the export of meat and hides. It is tempting and possible to put forward any number of plausible cause-and-effect hypotheses that apply to this situation, but a definitive analysis is beyond the scope of this and perhaps any report. The institutional response to the drought is a topic that is also fraught with conflicting values and judgements, but it is both more limited in content and more central to the purpose of this report.

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