By Moustapha Diallo, IFRC

In Lambago, like in most of villages in Diery, Matam, in north-eastern Senegal, the soils are dry and without vegetation. Mile upon mile, there is no water to be found. Only thorns on parched grass; mainly acacia and jujube trees. Here, crops depend on rainfall and the irregularity of the latter remains a major handicap.

“The plants did not reach maturity due an early end of the rains last year. Most of us almost harvested nothing,” said Aissatou Gueda Guissé, a resident of Dendoudi, a few kilometres away from Lambago.

The impact of the failed harvest has been felt among the communities for several months now. In Lambago, nearly 70 percent of households have reduced their food intake, eating two meals a day instead of three. Around ten children have been diagnosed with severe malnutrition. Ali Guisse, the village chief, said: “The situation will deteriorate further if rapid assistance is not provided.”

The situation is pretty much the same in the village of Dendoudi. Due to erratic rainfall, Aissatou Gueda Guissé has harvested only four bags of millet.

For the 52-year-old widow, feeding her six children and sending them to school is a daily struggle. “Sometimes I only cook once a day and my children often go to school on an empty stomach,” she said.

Aissatou is still affected by the death of her husband, the family’s main earner, who died 14 years ago. She is nostalgic about the past. “There was more solidarity before but now, times are hard for all of us,” she said.

When her crops failed, Aissatou turned to market gardening. But even so, locusts and wild birds destroyed a significant portion of the crops. She has now switched to hairdressing. But then again, in a poverty-stricken area, it may take several days for her to have a client.

From Matam in the north, to Goudiry in the southeast of Senegal, food insecurity continues to inflict untold suffering on thousands of people like Aissatou. According to the executive secretariat of the national food security council, an estimated 830,000 people are struggling with food insecurity throughout the country. The departments of Matam, Bambey, Malem Hodar, Kanel, Tambacounda and Gourdiry are the most affected.

To survive, many people in Matam coped by cutting down trees and selling firewood in the nearest towns, in an already fragile and degraded environment. Others are going into crippling debt, selling their assets, or taking away their daughters from schools and send them to neighbouring Mauritania, to work as maids.

The situation in Matam is similar to that in many parts of the Sahel region where erratic rainfall and failed crops have resulted in food insecurity and malnutrition. The situation is frequent in some of those areas, and people have been left on their own. The lean season will be longer and difficult. Most of the affected suffer silently from hunger, far away from the spotlight of the media.

“We have pockets of critical levels of food insecurity. It’s not yet a famine but it’s not far off, if urgent measures are not taken,” said Anne Leclerc, Head of the IFRC’s Sahel cluster.

More than 9.6 million people required emergency food assistance in the Sahel region and West Africa by end of May and this figure may rise up to 13.8 million between June and August, according to the 2017 “Harmonized framework – the West African system for classifying food insecurity”.

For Anne Leclerc, “Business as usual will not fix the problem. At the Red Cross and Red Crescent we will build the resilience of those constantly exposed to food insecurity by developing a continuum between emergency aid and long-term development programmes.”