In a strip of land just below the Sahara desert that stretches across the African continent, the stakes for rain and peace are high.
Rains only come once a year to small plots of farmland that provide sustenance to millions of people every year. Farmers depend on good harvests to thrive and pastoralist communities rely on water for grazing land for their livestock.
But in 2017, erratic rainfall in the Sahel contributed to a smaller annual harvest, threatening livelihoods and leading to an early hunger season this year—the time of year, every year, when food runs out.
That’s why between five and nine million people may need emergency food assistance from the World Food Programme (WFP) through September of 2018 as farmers await their next harvest. High malnutrition rates are expected to worsen if early action isn’t taken, with between 1.6 and 3.5 million children under the age of five in need of nutritional support.
Where Climate Change and Conflict Converge
The arid belt of the Sahel stretches from Senegal on the coast of West Africa to Djibouti on the east. Hundreds of millions of people call the region home, but for years, this area has suffered the effects of frequent drought, desertification and other symptoms of a changing climate. In recent years, armed groups like Boko Haram have exacerbated the situation, displacing people from their land.
When harvests are low and livestock are unable to survive, people often resort to negative coping strategies. Many sell off assets, eat less, migrate in search of jobs or food, while others consider joining terrorist groups that offer a monthly stipend or protection, taking advantage of people’s desperation.