The Sahel Crisis

Maradai Region, Niger: Local people helping to rehabilitate farmlands under a cash-for- work programme which allows them to earn some money to support their families. Photo: WFP/Phil Behan
UNDP Administrator Helen Clark in Niamey, Niger, for a two-day visit in 2012 aimed at focusing international attention on the seriousness of the food security and nutrition situation in the Sahel. Photo: UNDP
Children playing in Mopti, Northern Mali next to an ECHO-supported nutrition centre. In rural areas of the Sahel, chronic malnutrition affects half of all children, with irreversible consequrences on their growth and development. Photo: ECHO/Claire Barrault
Women returning home with bags of improved millet and green bean seeds from the FAO distribution centre in Niger. Helping families improve their farming practices, tools and produce is key to building resilience and sustainable food production. Photo: FAO/Issouf Sanogo
Villagers in Molia, Niger tend a community run garden that feeds 100 families. 17 February 2012. Photo: David Ohana/ OCHA.
Brahim Abba, 2, has his weight checked in a scale as other mothers and children wait their turn, at a walk-in feeding center in Mao, Chad in April 2012. Photo: Ben Curtis/AP

View the Sahel Crisis slideshow by clicking on the images above.


The Sahel is an area of West Africa that comprises Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. It is among the poorest and least developed regions in the world.

Over the last 30 years, the Sahel has experienced recurrent bouts of increased food insecurity, partly caused by repeated droughts, an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events - especially floods - and environmental degradation, which has negatively affected the livelihoods of millions of people. The countries of the Sahel region bear a history of conflict, which compounds the above crises and has resulted in large population displacement. In recent years, rainfall has decreased and become more erratic, resulting in poor agricultural productivity and high livestock mortality rates. Access to food remains a serious concern, especially for poor families who are struggling to cope with food insecurity.

Throughout 2013, it is estimated that more than 10 million people will remain food insecure, including 1.4 million children under five who are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition. The most vulnerable households in the Sahel region, approximately one fifth of the population, live permanently on the edge of crisis survival.

What is UNDP doing in response?

In Mali, UNDP is working in partnership with the larger UN system to build on peacebuilding efforts that ensure that principles of good governance are re-established, including through the much-anticipated elections slated for July 2013. Support underway focuses on strengthening the National Assembly, the Ministry of Justice and civil society participation in policy debates.

In Mauritania, amidst the uncertain political climate, UNDP has been supporting the government in the preparation of the National Strategy for Social Cohesion aimed at strengthening national unity and dialogue, providing a framework and mechanism for conflict management at the national and community levels and the development of trust in state authorities among different ethnic and tribal groups. In close collaboration with other UN agencies and the Government, UNDP is also designing a multi-year programme to strengthen the resilience of people and households to local risks to address social protection, disaster risk reduction, poverty reduction and adaptation to climate change needs.

In Niger, UNDP has supported the development of a national multi-hazard contingency plan, including a framework and tools for disaster management risk prevention, and the adoption of a national strategy for disaster reduction. UNDP is also assisting with the implementation of the Government’s ‘3Ns’ vision of ‘Nigeriens Feeding Nigeriens’ (Nigeriens Nourissent les Nigeriens) to address the medium and long-term needs for Niger’s food security. Coupled with this, UNDP is leading the development of the MDG Acceleration Framework (MAF) in full consultation with the Government and other stakeholders, honing in on food and nutritional security to bolster the 3N vision by identifying bottlenecks to enhancing food security and halving the number of people living in hunger by 2015.

In Burkina Faso, UNDP and its partners are working to strengthen the resilience of communities in the North, most affected by food shortages and the large-scale influx of refugees, focusing on community and government approaches to recovery, long-term development and the peaceful resolution of conflicts. UNDP also advocated for the inclusion of budgetary measures within the national economic plan to accelerate the achievement of MDG 1 on food security and nutrition, which the government has committed to.

In Chad, the ‘Committee for Monitoring the Call for Peace and National Reconciliation’ organized a forum in 2012 for dialogue between civil society and political actors about peacebuilding with support from UNDP. These efforts, as well as an effective pilot programme aimed at resilience building in Eastern Chad, are contributing to improved good governance at the national and local levels.

UNDP's approach

In line with evolving thinking about optimal approaches for aid in the Sahel, UNDP has been encouraging a shift towards approaches that foster resilience in government and society – meaning resilience to crises in the economy, the environment, food, politics and security.

As the lead UN agency for development, UNDP has been working with national and international partners in all of the Sahel countries, addressing national development priorities and the goals of the UN Country Teams and development partners.

How to contribute?


A direct contribution can also be made to any of the UNDP Country Offices through a cost sharing agreement.  In addition, contributions of USD$10,000 or more can be made at global level through UNDP’s Thematic Trust Fund for Crisis Prevention and Recovery.


Helen Clark: Urgent Call for Action in the Sahel
Sahel Crisis
Map of the Region