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Institutional responses to the drought

As a result of the 1968-1973 drought a number of institutional changes were made both inside and outside the United Nations. Within the United Nations, the Office of the UN Disaster Relief Co-ordinator (UNDRO) was created and became operational in March 1972. While its constitution was not necessarily a direct response to the crisis in the Sahel, it was given the responsibility of mobilizing, directing, and coordinating external aid to disasterstricken countries, assisting countries in preventing disasters (e.g., through flood-control measures), and assisting countries in preparing and planning for possible disasters (p. 53). In view of the organizational rivalries within the United Nations and the initial staff of only three officers, it is not surprising that UNDRO played virtually no role in the Sahel disaster other than providing a token $ 100,000 contribution.

TABLE 10. Areas in various rainfall zones under various climatic conditions, by country (km2 and percentage of total area of each country)

Mauritania Senegal Mali Niger Burkina Faso Chad Total
Period of average rainfall
< 100 515,000 - 421,600 443,450 - 539,200 1,919,250
  (50%)   (34%) (35%)   (42%) (36%)
100-300 432,600 11,820 347,200 532,140 - 192,600 1,516,360
  (42%) (6%) (28%) (42%)   (15%) (28%)
300-650 82,400 74,860 223,200 253,400 41,130 218,280 892,270
  (8%) (38%) (18%) (20%) (15%) (17% ) (17%)
650-900 - 59,100 111,600 38,000 120,648 179,760 509,118
    (30%) (9%) (3%) (44%) (14%) (10%)
> 900 - 51,220 136,400 - 112,422 154,080 454,122
    (26%) (11%)   (41%) (12%) (9%)
"Little pluvial" period (1962-1964)
< 100 399,640 - 285,200 595,490 - 462,240 1,742,570
  (39%)   (23%) (47%)   (36%) 133%)
100-300 556,570 3,940 409,200 202,720 - 192,600 1,375,030
  (55%) (2%) (33%) (16%)   (15%) (26%)
300-650 56,000 68,950 223,200 418,110 16,450 243,960 1,026,670
  (5%) (35%) (18%) (33%) (6%) (19%) (19%)
650 900 7,790 47,280 148,800 50,680 95,970 192,600 543,120
  (1 %) 124%) (12%) (4%) (35%) (15%) (10%)
> 900 - 76,830 173,600 - 161,780 192,600 604,810
    (39%) (14%)   (59%) (15%) (11%)
Drought period (1970-1972)
< 100 710,700 - 471,200 709,520 - 539,280 2,430,700
  (69%)   (38%) (56%)   (42%) (46%)
100-300 298,700 43,340 384,400 354,760 - 218,280 1,299,480
  (29%) (22%) (31%) (28%)   (17%) (25%)
300-650 20,650 87,710 193,400 190,050 76,780 282,480 853,020
  (2%) (43%) (16%) (15%) (28%) (22%) (16%)
650-900 - 41,370 99,200 12,670 90,480 115,560 359,280
    (21%) (8%) (1%) (33%) (9%) (7%)
> 900 - 27,580 86,800 - 106,940 128,400 349,720
    (14%) (7%)   (39%) (10%) (6%)
Total area 1,030,000 197,000 1,240,000 1,267,000 274,200 1,284,000 5,292,200

As the food crisis developed in the Sahel, the first emergency relief was provided by the World Food Programme. However, it was FAO that had the most expertise and best first-hand knowledge of the situation by virtue of its network of field officers and agricultural projects, and it was the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that had the best infrastructure (since it generally provides much of the administrative support for FAO-executed projects), Thus it should not be surprising that FAO had already created an inter-departmental working group in early 1973 to study the drought. As the scope of the crisis became evident, this internal working group was succeeded in May 1973 by the Office of Sahelian Relief Operations (OSRO), which was also under the direction of FAO. By this time it was already very late in the crisis - very little was left of the previous year's harvest and it was the height of the dry season-but at least it was agreed that OSRO would be the focal point for UN activities, and a staff was put together in both Rome and Ouagadougou, Upper Volta. An FAO Sahelian Trust Fund was quickly established, and $4 million was pledged by June. OSRO's initial operations were hindered by the fact that immediate action was required, yet there was a substantial lag between pledges and actual payment. Some UN agencies, such as WHO and UNICEF, diverted project money to relief operations, while WFP initiated new procedures to shorten the time required for the approval and implementation of projects. By the end of February 1974 some $25 million had been contributed to the ongoing relief effort.

Although the Office for Sahelian Relief Operations was responsible for co-ordinating emergency relief, the head of UNDP was designated in May 1973 to be the co-ordinator in New York for long-term relief operations. More import tartly, the Special Sahelian Office (SSO) was established to serve as the focal point for programmes concerned with the medium- and long-term recovery of the Sahel. One of the first activities commissioned by SSO was a set of sectoral studies on the Sahel.

During this same period when the United Nations was setting up its machinery for drought relief and long-term rehabilitation, the Sahelian countries were also making an effort to improve co-ordination among themselves. in March 1973, when the full magnitude of the drought was becoming apparent, representatives from Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Upper Volta met and jointly declared the Sahel a disaster area. Their mutual requests for emergency relief then provided the political authorization for both the United Nations and donor governments to act. At the same time these five countries also created CILSS (the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel), which was quickly joined by Chad. As an intergovernmental organization, CILSS was to represent the Sahelian states, particularly with regard to the financing of future rehabilitation and development projects. As such, CILSS is a unique case of developing countries banding together to more effectively put forth their views on what aid should be provided and how.

By September 1973 ClLSS was proposing some 300 projects, which would cost an estimated $3,000 million, with $850 million of this for what were identified as priority projects. As a first set of proposals these were admittedly imperfect, and some observers have suggested that many of them sprang from older proposals that had not been funded for one reason or another. In any case, the proposed projects did serve as a basis for discussion and to link the Sahelian countries in their efforts at development. In March 1974 the CILSS states formulated the three objectives that have guided activities since then: (1) to reduce the consequences of future droughts, (2) to ensure self sufficiency in staple foods [cereals and meat), and (3) to accelerate economic aid and social development (Club du Sahel/CILSS 1980).

The activities of CILSS and the UN Special Sahelian Office became much more intimately related in October 1974, when the UN Sudano-Sahelian Office (UNSO) was created to supercede the Special Sahelian Office. Originally based in Ouagadougou, UNSO's mandate was enlarged from simply offering advice on development prospects to (1) co-ordinating UN participation in Sahelian rehabilitation programmes and being responsible for contact with CILSS, (2) assisting in the mobilization of resources for CILSS projects, and (3) monitoring UN activities in the Sahel and helping ensure that these are consistent with the goals of CILSS (Brown 1977). UNSO thus assisted CILSS in the formulation of projects and in 1975 helped convene a donors' meeting in Geneva. As mentioned in chapter 3, the first donors,' conference, in July 1975, was relatively successful in that the donor countries expressed interest in most of the 56 projects (costing $154 million) that were proposed by CILSS/UNSO and regarded as appropriate for near-term implementation. Shortly thereafter the Gambia joined CILSS, followed somewhat later by Cape Verde, which was also badly affected by the drought.

By mid-1975 the World Bank, FAO, USAID, and the other major donors had had time to analyse the situation and try to develop an overall strategy for the Sahel. Although each agency had independently prepared an overview study, they concurred in their major conclusions: (1) that planning must be done on a regional basis; (2) that development efforts must be pursued in an integrated manner; and (3) that 20-30 years would be necessary to achieve the basic goals of CILSS. Beyond these expected statements, the studies agreed that the goals of CILSS could be attained and that there was no evidence of climatic change (i.e., the 1968-1973 drought, although an infrequent event, was well within the range of normal climatic variability) (USAID 1976a).

In view of the context that these studies provided, the obvious need for a concerted long-term programme, and the criticism directed at the initial CILSS compendium of projects, a need was felt - primarily by the donor countries for a more informal forum where donors and the Sahelian countries could sit together to work out strategies and coordinate their activities. This suggestion was accepted by the CILSS countries in late 1975, and in March 1976 the Club du Sahel was formally constituted (Williams 1977).

The Club du Sahel can be considered a co-ordinating body between CILSS and various donors, a forum for discussion, and a vehicle for increased communication and study. It was hoped by some that the Club du Sahel would also facilitate the provision of additional development assistance to the Sahel. Consistent with its mandate, a concerted effort has been made to keep the Club informal. Membership is open to all, and the Club plays no financial role other than maintaining a small secretariat.

At its first meeting, in March 1976, the Club du Sahel agreed on the broad outlines for defining a development strategy and discussed issues such as the amount of outside assistance that could realistically be absorbed by the Sahelian countries. There was some dissent, however, over the means of achieving these goals. In the case of food self-sufficiency, for example, there was disagreement over the relative importance of dryland farming versus irrigated farming. Finally, it was agreed that dryland farming had to be emphasized initially while the potential of the different rivers for irrigated agriculture was studied more thoroughly (OECD 1976). To prepare a more detailed strategy for economic and social development, a working group of ten teams was established. Four teams dealt with production (rain-fed agriculture, irrigated agriculture, livestock, fisheries), while five other teams dealt with intersectoral issues (human resources, transport, trade/price and storage, ecology, and technology). A final synthesis group was responsible for the coherence of the work of the other nine teams.

The resulting strategy was approved by CILSS in April 1977 and by the Club du Sahel at its second meeting, in Ottawa in May 1977. The strategy represented a major step forward in defining goals and the action that needed to be taken to reach those goals, but the final document had some inevitable shortcomings. For example, it did not provide a guideline for balancing irrigated and rainfed farming, nor did it outline the future development of the livestock industry.

From this the working group developed a programme of activities which has since become known as the "firstgeneration programme", consisting of an array of projects designed to cover the period 1978-1982. Some of these were new, while others were a continuation of existing activities or were drawn from the CILSS programme proposed in 1973. Hence it was subject to the same criticism of heterogeneity, but it was a joint effort and it did respond in part to the newly adopted strategy. The total cost was estimated as $3,000 million.

The Club du Sahel working groups have now been replaced by joint ClLSS/Club working groups on crop production, livestock, fisheries, ecology and reforestation, transport and infrastructure, and human resources. The successful presentation of national reviews of irrigated agriculture at the fourth meeting of the Club du Sahel, in 1980, has led to more emphasis on studies at the national level, as presumably the policy impact is greater at this level. National reviews have now been or are being prepared in most of the areas covered by the working groups.

Thus the firs-generation programme has served as the framework for development efforts in the Sahel since 1977, but it has not - despite suggestions to the contrary -been an authoritative and uncompromising blueprint for assistance. The identification and funding of projects is an ongoing process, and although CILSS and the Club du Sahel have been remarkably effective in bringing order to what could have been a chaotic situation, Cl LSS has not put the Sahelian countries in a situation of full control over the development process. Each donor still picks and chooses projects from the ClLSS/Club du Sahel smorgasbord depending on the donor's own interests and expertise, and then goes off to negotiate a specific project document. The details of project formulation, planning, and execution are discussed in more detail in the first half of chapter 5.

As for the effectiveness of the CILSS proposals, it is difficult to assess the average extent to which a final project document resembles the original proposal. Certainly in some cases the original concept is nearly unrecognizable. The Sahelian states have also requested assistance for sectors not included in the first-generation programme, and projects that were already scheduled or ongoing have continued. In short, the first-generation programme has helped to guide the orientation of new activities, but it is not possible to separate firs/generation projects from development assistance in general (Club du Sahel/CILSS 1980). The shift over time of priorities for development assistance will be discussed in quantitative terms in later sections of this report.

The wide range of development agencies operating in the Sahel means that donors can finance particular activities without making long-term financial commitments or having to set up an infrastructure of field offices. As described in chapter 3, UNSO is designed both to be a middleman and to manage projects for donors. Alternatively, donors can provide funds-in-trust to the relevant UN agency, and in this way the donor can control the type of project but not be bothered with many of the administrative problems and political pitfalls. Outside the UN system there are a number of other multilateral and private agencies that can serve as channels for development assistance. Often, however, these agencies are not willing to accept restricted or "tied" funds (i.e., aid of which a certain proportion has to be spent on goods and services from the donor country}. The existence of all these avenues for development assistance means that while all projects should relate to the ClLSS/Club du Sahel-approved programme, both the ClLSS/Club programme and the process of project formulation are sufficiently flexible to allow the development of a variety of mutually agreeable activities, some of which may not necessarily be part of the overall development plan.

Not only are donor countries responsible for the selection of projects to be implemented, but the very close cooperation between the Club du Sahel and CILSS means that the donor countries also have considerable input into the setting of priorities. Hence the ClLSS/Club objectives - which are often quite broad - are likely to be in line with overall donor goais and almost any project the donors are interested in proposing.

In the years from the "end" of the drought in 1974 until 1976, adequate rains allowed a slow recovery of animal herds and a return of many of the migrants to the countryside (WFP 1975). In 1977, however, the rains were late and very irregular. In midSeptember, at the end of the harvest, the Director-General of FAO warned that at least 200,000 tons of cereals were required beyond the normal level of food imports. Towards the end of October 1977 ClLSS estimated a deficit of 500,000 tons. Multi - donor assessment missions were sent to each country, and the emergency food needs of the Sahelian countries - including Cape Verde - were estimated at 457,000 tons. Further appeals for assistance were made, and by October 1978- one year after the original appeals - 380,246 metric tons, or 83 per cent of the required aid, had been delivered. An additional 16,000 tons were in West African ports, and 41,000 tons were pledged but not yet delivered (UNDRO 1979). Despite these shortcomings there was no famine, indicating again that the Sahelian people have their own alternatives for coping with drought-induced shortages. These data also suggest that the international community, while much better able to anticipate shortages and take timely action, is still not able to overcome some more basic problems, including unpredictable delays between pledges of assistance and the actual transfer of funds and materials, the problem of unpaid pledges, and the difficulties of transporting bulky foodstuffs to remote areas.

In 1977 there also occurred an illustration of the importance of national policies in exacerbating or alleviating the problems of poor harvests. In Upper Volta the government established relatively low cereal prices, presumably to allow the purchase of food by people with low incomes. However, the low domestic price encouraged illegal grain exports to neighbouring countries such as Ghana and discouraged the sale of surplus grain by the farmers, and thereby contributed to the country's estimated grain shortage of 114,000 tons (New African 1977).

It should be recognized that drought need not be a Sahelwide phenomenon. From 1977 to 1981 the rains didn't fail to the extent they did in 1973, but localized, shortterm food deficits have been caused by low rainfall and pest outbreaks. The World Food Programme has been providing emergency assistance over this period, indicating that as long as people are dependent on grazing and rain-fed agriculture, in almost every year there will at least be local shortages of basic foodstuffs.

In order to provide an early warning of food shortages in the Sahel, the United Nations has tried to establish a number of monitoring systems. WHO has an extensive network of weather stations providing rainfall data on a regular basis, and FAO is supposed to monitor crop production; WFP provides a weekly report on "pledges, shipments and other relevant developments" (WFP 1978c). Nevertheless, there are still serious questions about the ability of the United Nations system to respond quickly and adequately

To alleviate some of the problems associated with emergency aid, attempts are being made to keep food stocks in major centres so that they are readily available when emergency assistance is approved Distribution in the rural areas may still pose severe administrative and practical problems, especially during the rainy season when most roads are impassable. The provision of food stocks also will not solve the problem of a time lag between a government's request for assistance and official approval of aid by a donor.

Usually before substantial aid can be provided, a group of officials from the major donors must be sent to survey the situation at first hand. Pledges are then made based on their recommendations. The two main problems associated with this procedure are the extensive time delay and the lack of data on which to base a recommendation. For example, the Gambia made an official request in March 1976 for 7,200 tons of food aid to feed 160,000 persons for 150 days (after which the new harvest should have been available), but "it took some time to assess the real needs, and after a careful analysis of the crop situation the request was approved on 10 August for only 3,000 tons" {WFP 1977). Despite the Gambia's location on the Atlantic coast, food was then not available until October, when the rainy season was nearly over and the new crop was already in the storehouses or in the process of being harvested. In addition to illustrating the first problem, this example also indicates the second: the uncertainty inherent in any assessment of crop yields and food needs. A multidonor mission to Mauritania in 1976, for example, estimated the harvest at 26,000 tons, when it actually turned out to be 50,000 tons (UNDP 1979a). In development projects these problems may not be so critical, but when one is talking about emergency relief, lives are literally at stake and errors can't be tolerated unless they are on the side of oversupply. A review of project reports indicated that differences between government requests and mission recommendations were the rule rather than the exception, with the tendency for the mission to have a lower estimate of needs than the respective governments.

In the early 1980s another series of poor-rainfall years struck most of Africa. In contrast to 1968-1973, the worst of the drought appeared to be in eastern and southern Africa, and attention focused initially on Ethiopia. By 1984 some 22 countries were in need of assistance, including all the CILSS countries except the Gambia. Total food-aid requirements for the 22 countries were estimated at 6.6 million tons.

Although it is too early to evaluate the response of the donor community fully, at least some of the lessons from the 19681973 drought appear to be remembered. Official awareness of the deteriorating food situation seemed to be quite high, and early attempts were made to collect pledges and transport food. However, the internal political situation - particularly in Ethiopia - made it very difficult to transport and distribute supplies to all those in need. From the timing of the donors' response it seemed that the political will to make substantial contributions was as dependent on public support {largely in response to media presentations) as on the humanitarian instincts of the various offical aid organizations.

It can only be concluded that mass famine will not reappear as long as the donor community does not lapse into an attitude of complacency. It is less clear, however, that development efforts in the Sahel will meet the CILSS objectives and obviate the need for future emergency relief. The following chapters will provide a detailed look at agencies of the United Nations system and analyse their efforts to remove the shadow of famine from the Sahel and improve the quality of life of its inhabitants.

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