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Any Spare Coin is Invested in Goats, Sheep and Camels

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Photos and Text Samuel Hauenstein Swan  – www.sambronx-photo.com

Part X of the Descendent of the Hyena Series. Full Story

Food aid has traditionally been the dominant form of assistance to people suffering from hunger. In the past decade, however, support in the form of cash transfers has become increasingly popular as an alternative to food aid, especially in Africa. The advantages of cash are many. Cash gives people more choices to the recipient than food, enabling them to meet a range of food and non-food needs, including health expenses, clothing, and – even in emergency situations – the purchase of livestock and other critical assets needed to build livelihoods. Herds small to big not only provide food directly, but they also guarantee an income flow, can act as a store of value enhancing risk-bearing capacity, and often have an inherent value linked to the status they confer to their owners. Farmers like Zara ideally invest there harvest surplus profit to gain animals which the resell if they face financial hardship, such as an illness, prolonged food deficit etc.

The nomadic communities around where Zara lives had once abundant and diverse herds. The “dry” years of the late 1980s and the first decade of the 21st century severely reduced the numbers and composition of the animals. Trying to recover in the aftermath of severe droughts is a long and tough process: buying young and healthy animals is beyond the means of all but the wealthiest. Losing their strong camels signifies diminishes the ability to move from place to place in search of water and pasture. In turns that result in heightened conflict between the villages and the nomads as the prolonged presence of animals and humans around limited water-points leads to increasing overgrazing, deforestation, and disputes over the usage of extensive plains.
Almost all evidence available highlighting positive effects of cash transfers, on livestock and inputs. The impacts on savings, ownership of animals were consistent highlighting positive results of giving distressed communities cash on hand at times of seasonal hunger.

Cash also has ‘multiplier effects’ in the economy: spending cash transfers will generate income and employment for others that not got the cash directly. Capital can help farmers protect their belongings and their production systems. prevent distress sales of animals and livelihood stimulate local food economies.

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Where are the Moral Limits of Helping the Hungry?

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Part IIX of the Descendent of the Hyena Series.

Text and Pictures Samuel Hauenstein Swan

Over centuries, many societies have come up with mechanisms that reduced seasonal hunger of its citizens. Transport networks, agricultural technologies, storage and information on surpluses and shortages of food crops in various parts of a country all ideal mitigate the impact of hunger and hopefully prevent starvation of its populations.

However, systems and technologies no matter how sophisticated and right meaning depend on solidarity on all levels. For Anti-hunger policies they need the resolution of the powerfull to enable the voices of the communities that are subjected to the massive destructive forces of seasonal hunger and its aggravating factors – poor health, lack of access to resources conflict and so for.

Examples of success as plenty: massive relief interventions, public works programme, agricultural extension workers, relaxation of taxes to stimulate trade and lower prices. Social arrangements to redistribute food, assets and relief from the rich to the poor exists on the national and international level. Humanitarian is on an upward trend with record budget of US$27.3 billion for global humanitarian assistance for 2016

The question of who is “deserving” of this help, remains a contested topic. Those in power accept a moral and legal duty to protect poor and powerless against the worst and often focus narrowly on the prevention of starvation death while neglecting other forms of hunger and malnutrition. The concepts of vulnerability have evolved over the past decades for sure. The same sharp but the ultimately false distinction between “starvation prevention” and “hunger prevention” prevails today. An especially poignant question as the number of displaced, conflict affects and climate change affected populations raise quicker than the funds available to respond. Is the global moral responsibility limited to starvation or the much higher sum of death and distress caused by annual cycles of hunger which is mostly ignored?

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Struggle to Find Work

Photo and Text: Samuel Hauenstein Swan – www.SamBronx-Photo.com

Part V of the Descendent of the Hyena Series.

Chapter I, II, III and IV

The Story of Zara, we follow in this series typifies the struggle of many households in the village of Guidan Koura a community in Niger and further afield throughout the Sahel. For many small farmers like her, 7the food and cash gained from their agriculture are just not sufficient to feed their children all year round. They must search for additional work throughout the year. In many rural areas of poor countries, however, regular employment is impossible. With the start of every day, the Zara has to scrape by perhaps find work with a wealthier villager. Or collect wood and to sell it on the roadside, send some older children away to relatives to see for protection and food there.

The young ones remain with her. But there is the physicality of all the task which make it difficult to look after the little toddlers. “if I am strong I take one on my back, to collect wood or fetch water. Zara says. “but usually I must trust the older girls to look after the little ones,  to keep them asleep, so they not noticed I am gone, and if they wake up give them some water, so they think they are not hungry and stop crying.” I can not keep up the breastfeeding as I am out the house for work most of the day and I have very little milk in my body when I am back. The poor nutrition is probably why so many of our baby fall ill with malnutrition and die in the dry seasons. Zara concluded thinking of her lost child (Part II of the Descendent of the Hyena Series). If all fails, we eat wild roots and leaves or I send the children to beg on strangers doors.

I have to go to work whenever I find some, no matter if I should look after my children or go to work on my farm. To weed or water the shoots. Poor people have no choice. To days work or lack of it is today’s food or a day of scarcity and hunger. This cycle then is the basic scenario for many rural people: living in a downward spiral of low productivity and resource degradation. But the picture would not be complete without considering how poor people try to cope and what this means for their future.

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18 Hour Day with One Meal Only

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Photo and Text: Samuel Hauenstein Swan – www.SamBronx-Photo.com

Part IV of the Descendent of the Hyena Series.

We ask the elder in the villages about his daily routine in the growing season. “my wife and I get up at about five o’clock in the morning,” he begins, and head out right away to the fields, to beat the heat that is building up very quickly. We try to get most of the farm work – which is at that time of the year mostly weeding and ensure the soil is not to compact around the base of the plants, so the rain gets to the roots quickly – before one o’clock n the afternoon.

By the time we reach home, it is nearly two it is we have our first meal.

During the months where we have the most work on the farms, we also have the least reserves in the kitchen. We often have just that lunch meal, and in the evening we make some tea with sugar.

These hunger season meals lack both in quantity and quality. It is often just as much that a headache is going but never as much that we feel full. During this month of the year, it is only porridge we dilute with much water and give a bit of tasing by adding wild leaves and hot spices.

“Hunger in the village and the region has to do with poverty and secondary with rains.” Zara’s neighbours explain: ”the rain permit only one harvest. The better off villages have the low grounds close to the river and with fertile soil to make most of the few spots of rain. The others have the fields that are higher and on slopes where the water runs off, and the most fertile ground is missing. These areas give little and even in good years are sufficient to feed the family. They also have no surplus to bring to the markets and gain cash to purchase food later in the season. Once their stocks are empty Zara, and families like hers must hope for occasional work in exchange for a meal.

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Empty Rivers

Photo and Text: Samuel Hauenstein Swan http://www.sambronx-photo.com

Part III of the Descendent of the Hyena Story.

The vast majority of small-scale farmers in Subsaharan Africa depend on rain feed agriculture. Yet, around Zara’s village the rivers dry up, as soon they have swelled in the short rainy season, and water becomes scarce.

Most of the world’s economic weak families live in rural areas and work in agricultural and livestock economies. For these households, poverty, hunger and illness are highly dynamic phenomena, changing dramatically over the course of a year in response to production, price and climatic cycles.

As a result, most of the world’s acute hunger occurs not in conflicts and natural disasters but in that annually recurring time of the year called the ‘hunger season’, the period during the year when the previous year’s harvest stocks have dwindled, and little food is available on the market, causing prices to shoot upward.

Employment and economic opportunities are often scarce during the hunger season, and to make matters worse, in many countries this period usually coincides with the rainy season, when severe illnesses like malaria strike hardest.

Despite the importance of seasonal cycles throughout the rural developing world, development response is often homogeneous in type and amount throughout the year.

Seasonality is one of these leverage points. Interventions like pre-positioning nutrition and health resources, providing employment during the hunger period, and indexing benefits to prices will cost-effectively reduce poverty, hunger, child mortality and illness.

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The Gaps in this Family Portrait 

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Part II of the Descendent of the Hyena Story.

Photo and Text: Samuel Hauenstein Swan – www.SamBronx-Photo.com

The few months after harvest in September, are comfortable for the community of Guidan Koura. Food is readily available. The water holes are replenished and full.  The time of plenty is short-lived

Zara’s husband is missing, from the picture, he is coming only for the short rainy season to help with the agricultural season and harvest. they all know there will not be sufficient work or food for all and he is leaving for the rest of the year to work in the faraway coastal countries the rest of the year.

Soon the supplies reduce, the mothers have to think of the months to come and start to ration. Orientate their thoughts to the long months ahead. Survival to Zara’s family will depend on her forward thinking and her ability to balance her household economy and care duties as a mother.

2005 was a terrible year the harvest was small, no one in the village had much grain. The social fabric of the community began to unravel; neighbours hid food from each other, knowing that dividing food into even smaller portions would mean starvation for all. Hunger drove them all mad. It was then when Zara’s big sister fell ill and died; she left two daughters to look after. With no food in the home and two more mouths to feed her second born boy fell behind. He too died during the 2005 hunger season.

Zara now calls three daughters and two boys, one born in 2007 her children.

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Clémence’s soft toy

 

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picture:  www.sambronx-photo.com

Clémence is holding onto her soft toy Dalmatian Puppy, her mother gave her for Christmas. Children all over the world hold on to their cuddly toys for comfort in unfamiliar places. Clémence is no different.

 

I meet her and her mother, Anita, in the intensive nutrition unit of the pediatric hospital in Bangui, the Central African Republic. 29,250 children under 5 years suffering from acute malnutrition are admitted for therapeutic care. The principal referral centre of the capital is crowded with children that have fallen ill with the most severe and deadly form of malnutrition. There is little noise from these children: too ill to play, too weak to express discomfort.

 

At two and a half years old and 5.5 kg, Clémence is barely above the weight of a new born baby. I learned how she came here as her mother, Anita, props her up in her lap. A few weeks back she was a strong and joyful little child playing in the streets near her home. All changed when she caught malaria and lost appetite fighting the fever. Weakened by illness, she developed diarrhea and quickly lost weight to the point that her parents got very worried and brought her into the hospital, where they learned their child was suffering from severe malnutrition.

 

Severe malnutrition is one of the greatest challenges to child survival in the world today. Affecting 16 million children worldwide and responsible for up to two million child deaths each year, it is the most lethal form of malnutrition.

 

Clémence is clinging onto her Dalmatian toy when the nurse tries to move it to take the temperature. Her breathing is very quick and she seems to drift in and out of sleep. She is unable to move her head up and look around. Having worked with ACF for many years, the intensive nutrition units are the hardest, saddest places to visit. No child should ever fall ill with Severe malnutrition.  It is the epitome of an unjust world: a place that produces more food that it can eat and has the knowledge to treat infections these children can no longer fight.

 

However, nutrition units are also places of hope. Last year 87% of children brought to our nutrition clinics in CAR recovered and returned home. ACF cured more than three million children around the world last year alone. Effective community treatment, equipped with products like therapeutic foods, reach children living in the most marginalised and conflict ridden areas of the world. Where the illness is extremely severe and complicated by infection as it was with Clémence, inpatient treatment with the supervision of ACF doctors and nurses around the clock is the only option. CAR has experienced high levels of violence that have devastated its health system and increased poverty, so only few referral centres are available.

 

Talking to Anita, a law student, she was hopeful that the treatment was working and there were  some signs that her child was getting better. Trying to feed her was not easy, as Clémence was spilling much of the therapeutic milk and having difficulties even swallowing. Feeding ill children is a painfully slow and delicate process as any parents know. Here it is an act of desperation to save a child.  My presence was not helping as Clémence was distracted. I left the hospital where Anita was hopeful that her daughter would gain weight and get back her appetite so they could return home. I felt hopeful that Clémence’s mother was right.

 

Arriving back in the UK I had some horrible, sad news from Central African Republic. Clémence died from severe malnutrition only days after I left her bedside. Her mum was doing her best. In a country that has high rates of illness, only few health care workers are at hand to help her to detect the early signs of malnutrition and get treatment. This Mother couldn’t prevent her baby from getting regular bouts of malaria or the diarrhea that followed and weakened her little girl, and led to the severe malnutrition. She is one case in about 700 malnutrition-related deaths per year in CAR.

 

We do save lives in our projects every day. Sadly we failed Clémence. Despite our best effort, too many children still do not make it through severe malnutrition. In 2015 Action Against Hunger treated 1,560,000 children: more than any previous year. We have to do even more. Anita, her story and pictures serve me as a reminder to raise awareness of the unspeakable injustices of malnutrition so many children in CAR and worldwide, battle with day in day out.

 

Action Against Hunger are part of a massive scale up and work with communities, donors and doctors to find children long before they are severely malnourished, to expand treatment into many more health centers in order for malnourished children to stand the best chance to be cured. Referral centers such as at the Bangui paediatric hospital partner with us to deal with overwhelming numbers of malnourished children.