West Africa: Cattle dying amid drought, escalating food crisis

In villages across Mauritania, herdsmen are leaving with their cattle, while women and children are left behind in areas where the food and water supply is increasingly scarce.

Story and photos by Jonathan Bundu. Edited by Peter Warski.
Published February 28, 2012 at 12:00am PST

In the village of Belel Koyle, Mauritania, a group of women stand together, shredding old cartons and putting them in a rubber bucket.

With no grass left, these shredded paper boxes will be fed to the few remaining cattle.

Aminata Boye, mother of 8-year-old Kadjata, leads the group. “All the men in Belel Koyle have left,” Aminata says. “We, the women, have now become bread-winners.”

The men who are farmers left with the majority of the cattle. They couldn’t risk losing any more as the drought worsens, eliminating water access points and areas suitable for grazing.

The few cattle that were left behind are for the women and children to sell, in case things get really bad.

Desperate times, desperate measures

With the migration, the farmers hope to save the rest of their animals. When push comes to shove, they will have cows to sell so they can afford other necessities.

Aminata says that the women can adapt to the departure of the men — but for children like her daughter, Kadjata, it’s a nightmare. The girl sits quietly in front of their kitchen door, watching the work going on. She looks deflated.

Aminata (right) works with other women to prepare what little sustenance they can find for the remaining cattle in the village.When World Vision first met Kadjata in December, she was worried that her father would leave her and go with the cattle. Her fear was realized on February 11, when he left Belel Koyle with the other men, crossing the river into neighboring Senegal.

Drought tearing families apart

“I’ve not had any milk since my father left with our cows,” Kadjata says sadly. Like most rural children in West Africa, cow’s milk is a staple food for her, providing critical nourishment. She used to drink it in the morning and evening. Prior to her father’s departure, she never went a day without it.

“I always drink it joyfully,” she says.

Now, Kadjata simply longs for the cattle and her father’s return. Sitting on her mother’s lap, Kadjata is offered porridge, but she takes only a spoon and puts is aside.

“She is not used to eating porridge without milk,” says Aminata. “I [have to] encourage her to eat, so I normally cajole her that the rain is going to fall soon and her Gido [beloved father] will be back.”

Without assistance, situation could worsen

Aminata fears what might happen to her daughter if the drought and food crisis persists in their region.All of the women are worried about their children. “If the drought persists, my little Kadjata may be malnourished and sick,” adds Aminata. “I was even thinking today to…take a little money from what her father left for us to buy some powdered milk and see if [she will] drink it.”

A look at the local food bank reveals a very limited supply of bags filled with rice. Even these required great sacrifice for the community. Each household had to sell their biggest bull and give part of the money to buy the rice, while the rest is left with the wives to manage until the men return.

When this money runs out, it will be hard for the women and children to survive. Hunger could turn into malnutrition — or worse.

Learn more

Read more stories and updates about the West Africa food crisis on the World Vision Blog.

Three ways you can help

Please pray for children and families like Kadjata and her mother and father. Pray for rains to return to this dry region, enabling a better harvest, and pray for critical assistance to reach those who are suffering most in the meantime.

Make a one-time gift to help provide life-saving food and care. Your donation will help deliver interventions like emergency food aid, clean water, agricultural assistance, nutritional training, and more in areas where children are suffering from hunger.

Give monthly to support children affected by hunger. Your monthly contribution will help World Vision fight hunger and malnutrition around the world with emergency relief and long-term solutions.