Helping Poor Families Build Resilience to Climate Change and other Disasters in the Sahel

July 15, 2014

  • A new World Bank-managed trust fund for the Sahel will help build resilience and reduce poverty in some of the world’s poorest countries.
  • The United Kingdom is a key donor partner, contributing US$75 million.
  • The trust fund supports an integrated approach to social safety nets that builds in risk management and adaptation to climate change.

WASHINGTON, July 15, 2014—A few years ago, Dijé Issa, a 30-year old woman living in Chagnassou, a village in Niger’s Illela locality, was faced with impossible odds as she tried to take care of her four children. She did not earn enough through the year to support her young family and could not supply the household with enough water during times of drought.

Dijé’s family was among the first to receive a small amount of money regularly from the government in 2012, through a World Bank-supported social safety net program which covered Dosso, Maradi, Tahoua, Tillabéry and Zinder—the five poorest regions in Niger.

“The 10,000 CFA francs that we receive has been a great help,” Dijé said, soon after the program was rolled out in Niger. “I pay a man 5,000 francs to bring water for my family, and I use the rest to buy rice, oil, and firewood so that I can feed my children.”

Dije is one of millions of poor people living in Africa’s massive Sahel region, which lies just south of the Sahara desert and is one of the most vulnerable parts of the world. Poverty in the rural Sahel is further deepened by the devastating effects of climate change on fields and livestock.

" The 10,000 CFA francs that we receive has been a great help. "

Dijé Issa

A new trust fund for the Sahel

To help the Sahelian nations of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal move away from expensive emergency aid, steadily reduce poverty, and build long-term food security and climate resilience, the World Bank has launched a new multi-donor Sahel Adaptive Social Protection Trust Fund, with initial support of US$75 million from the United Kingdom.

“Helping poor and vulnerable people in Africa’s crisis-prone Sahel region as they struggle to survive in the face of natural disasters, political and economic uncertainty, and disrupted livelihoods is a very high priority for the World Bank, said Makhtar Diop, World Bank Vice President for Africa. “The United Kingdom’s support is generous, timely, and strategic, because it will give millions of the world’s poorest people a very real chance of breaking free of poverty and to pursue opportunity even when faced with great odds.”

Climate-smart social safety nets

Social safety nets are now on the rise among low-income countries in Africa. These programs routinely cushion poor and vulnerable people against losses of income that could force them to cut down on nutritious food for their families, take their children out of school, or make distress sales of precious assets such as livestock.

The “adaptive” approach that the new trust fund will support integrates basic social protection of this kind with disaster risk management and adaptation to climate change. For example, it could help countries to anticipate climate-related events such as droughts and quickly scale up cash transfers via their social safety net programs in response.

Also, public works supported by social safety nets—in which able-bodied adults work for cash or food—could help build climate-resilient infrastructure in vulnerable areas, and avoid subprojects that make it harder rather than easier to adapt to climate change.

Mory Maidoka Ali, National Coordinator of the Safety Nets program and Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Niger explains that the Niger safety net—which provided cash for work in some of Niger’s poorest regions—helped rehabilitate nearly 7,000 hectares of degraded soil, built over 4,200 km of firebreaks and de-silted 49,000 cubic meters of pond-water.

“These activities benefited more than 15,000 vulnerable households in Niger,” Ali said.

The Niger program shows how safety net programs can intersect with disaster Risk management and climate change adaptation in the Sahel, and how more than one objective can be achieved by the same program. 

“Adaptive social protection isn’t just about safety nets,” said Stefano Paternostro, World Bank Practice Manager for Labor and Social Protection in West & Central Africa. “It also integrates or connects with a whole range of other activities such as early warning systems for natural disasters, formal or informal risk insurance in vulnerable communities, and giving people access to useful information, skills, employment, and income earning opportunities”.

Knowledge and innovation

The World Bank Group has been at the forefront of social safety nets in Africa, playing a key role in supporting many programs, from Ethiopia’s longstanding Productive Safety Net Program and Tanzania’s cash transfer program that is now being scaled up nationwide, to fledgling safety nets that are being set up in Niger, Mali, and several other African countries.

Niger’s safety net, for example, is already making a difference to thousands of women like Dijé Issa and to prospects for their children. Over five years, it will cushion about a million people in the most vulnerable parts of a country hard hit by frequent drought and volatile food prices.

The new Trust Fund will support the documentation of social protection knowledge in the Sahel out of a range of programs and activities such as this one—including evidence of what works and what doesn’t in individual countries—and will contribute to a growing body of analytical work and rigorous evaluation of social protection in Sub-Saharan Africa.

While drawing on country experiences in Africa, Latin America, and other developing regions, the trust fund will also encourage specific innovations suited to the Sahel. In addition, it will provide complementary funding alongside the World Bank Group’s support for the Sahelian countries, which is through IDA, its fund for the poorest countries.

The World Bank Group’s commitment to the Sahel

“Strong safety nets that factor in the particular challenges of low-income countries such as those in the Sahel are very well aligned with World Bank Group’s twin global goals of eliminating extreme poverty and building shared prosperity,” said Arup Banerji, Senior Director for the Social Protection & Labor Global Practice.

In 2013, the World Bank Group pledged $1.5 billion to the Sahel to help boost economic growth and accelerate poverty reduction. This is in addition to its ongoing development multi-country and national programs in the region already worth several billion dollars.