By Moustapha Diallo, IFRC

The neighbourhood of Gourel Nguet, located in the department of Goudiry in eastern Senegal is bustling with activity. There is an endless movement of carts in front of the main store in the area. Hundreds of people, mainly women, are sitting on the ground holding empty basins and buckets. Despite the overwhelming heat, they queue up patiently -waiting to get a food voucher.

Goudiry is one of the seven departments in Senegal that is still under threat from critical food insecurity. The combined impact of inadequate rainfall over the past three years and several consecutive failed harvests have put many families in serious jeopardy.

An estimated 830,000 people are in need of urgent food assistance in Senegal.  So the Senegalese Red Cross, with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), is distributing  food vouchers to nearly 10,000 people in Goudiry and Bambey, as early response. Irene Coulibaly, 42, is one of the people now receiving this much-needed support.

Irene, like many families in Goudiry, reliesmostly on rain-fed agriculture to survive. Her husband had a plot of land where he was growing maize and millet, but left the country two years ago and married another woman.

Abandoned by her husband and resettled in neighbouring Gambia while she was pregnant, Irene struggles daily to feed her four children. Alone and without her husband’s source of income, it has been very tough for her.

“I was not strong enough to do proper farming and the little I sowed failed as the rains came late,” explains Irene.

To take care of her family, she offers laundry services. She washes clothes by hand in homes. “This is very hard and poorly paid work,” she says.

Today, with her Senegalese Red Cross food vouchers, Irene has bought rice, sugar, oil, beans and salt. “These rations mean a lot for me, especially for my children. This will help us survive for some weeks as there is a critical lack of food during the lean season.”

As harvest time approaches there is a glimmer of hope among some small-scale famers in Goudiry, but Irene says: “I don’t know what the future will be.”

Despite an improvement in agricultural production in many countries in the Sahel last year, pockets of severe food insecurity persist, due to the combined effects of inadequate and irregular rainfall, poor harvests, volatile food prices and violence.

An estimated 36 million people are food insecure in West Africa and the Sahel region, according to the 2017 “Harmonized framework – the West African system for classifying food insecurity”.  Out of these people facing food insecurity, 9.6 million require emergency food assistance. This figure could reach 13.8 million people in coming months, if strong measures are not put in place.

“We opted to focus on critical pockets of food insecurity by giving priority to a more collective approach as well as long-term programmes, through a four-year new strategy combining prevention, response to emergency, and building resilience,” says Anne E. Leclerc, Head of the IFRC’s Sahel Country Cluster Support Team.

This initiative will support six countries in the Sahel region (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Chad) where some 4,179,000 people are food insecure.