“What do you do when supplies have run out and there’s no money to buy food?”

A hypothetical question for us, but a deadly serious one for many people in Niger and Chad. After floods destroyed the harvests, there were hardly any supplies to bridge the dry season last year.

People reacted the way people react in emergency situations like these – at first they switch to cheaper food, for example cassava instead of rice. Then they ask for food from relatives and friends or, in order to survive, eat the seeds that should have been saved for the coming harvest. In Chad, for example the pearl millet that had been reserved for sowing is now being served as mash. If the store cupboard is empty, they buy on credit. And if that’s not enough, they send the children to work for richer families. Girls are married off. Finally, food is rationed: women are often the first to eat less so their children and husbands have more. Sooner or later there will be just one meal a day instead of three or two, and then just one every second day. The last resort is the decision to leave the home village in search of better conditions.

These escalation levels described serve as an index to measure how severe a situation is. The Coping Strategy Index (CSI) records how often a strategy is used per week and the severity of the strategy concerned. The higher the frequency and the more severe the strategy, the worse the situation.

744 tonnes of food

In Chad, 93 percent of people in the southern provinces of Logone Oriental and Mandoul were affected by severe food insecurity at the height of the hunger crisis last year.

SWISSAID reacted quickly and organised emergency aid for those affected in these provinces. An assessment based on the CSI showed that, following the emergency aid operation, only 52 percent of the population in the region continued to be affected by severe food insecurity.

A total of 274 tonnes of food and 50.4 tonnes of seed were distributed to around 9,600 people (including 2,500 pregnant and breastfeeding women and 800 children), and access to drinking water was secured for 9,800 people in 11 villages.

In Niger, 2,500 families (17,500 people) received 470 tonnes of food, and seeds were distributed to 7,900 smallholders.

Transparency is key

Once the aid staff had identified the population groups with the greatest need, they made sure all recipients were given the same amount. Committees made up of men, women and representatives of all the village’s religions were set up to carry out checks and assessments in each village receiving aid. “Their job is to make sure no one uses their power to give preference to family and friends, and that no corruption takes places,” says Daniel Ott Fröhlicher, Programme Manager for Chad, SWISSAID.

Social control is one of the best ways to prevent favouritism, which is why as many processes as possible take place in public: everyone comes together on the village square for the distribution of the emergency aid parcels. Another tried-and-tested method is communication via posters with photos and pictograms. This makes sure that the entire population is informed about any planned distribution of emergency aid packages.

If anyone feels disadvantaged despite all these measures, they can complain by contacting the committee or the complaints hotline, the number for which is clearly visible on all posters. All contact is treated confidentially. Spot checks are carried out following the distribution.

The emergency aid campaign is widely communicated: posters and banners tell people who is entitled to an emergency aid package and when it will be distributed. A telephone number for complaints is also provided. The parcels contain basic foodstuffs such as beans, sorghum, maize and oil. For families with small children, there is often baby food for the youngest. A little later on, the smallholders are provided with seeds to secure the coming harvest.

Participatory approach

Ideally, an emergency aid operation is also an empowerment process: “People see that distribution is well-organised and rules are followed, free of corruption and favouritism,” says Daniel Ott Fröhlicher. “Ultimately, not only has the food crisis been overcome, but the democratic structures in the village have also been strengthened.” SWISSAID can build on such processes in future projects.