Thursday, 14 October 2010

LEGS: the case of Niger

LEGS is the Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards. Since reading an article about LEGS some time last year (in Humanitarian Exchange), I've been far more alert to aid stories related to livestock. It makes sense to me. From a livelihoods perspective, particularly in Africa where a cattle-based economy is the economic system to which most people revert in times of crisis (and/or marriage), protecting livestock can make a huge difference to survival.

The Food Crisis in Niger is a perfect case study to is a illustrates the importance of LEGS. Erratic rains in 2009 produced food shortages in 2010. Those most affected were nomadic pastoralists. In a country like Niger, this is a rather large group. In the Diffa region, for example, up to 90% of the population relies (relied?) on livestock for survival. These are crucial livelihood assets, not only for their food value (in the form, for example, of milk) but as guarantees against loans, bartering power and their use in traditional exchanges and activities.

It was clear that there was going to be a food shortage in Niger before it happened. FEWS and other predictive systems all said it would happen and a variety of UN Agencies and INGOs duly got ready and put together a consolidated appeal. Which remained largely unfunded. It wasn't until the situation got desperate and an emergency appeal was put out (possibly after flooding added yet another dimension to the disaster) that money began to flow in. Even then, one of the most underfunded areas of the appeals was livestock-related. Donors were happy to pay for food aid and therapeutic feeding centres but resistant to appeals for livestock. People we will help but animals are an extra cost in an already stretched budget cycle.

The short-sightedness of not at least attempting to mitigate the impact of disasters on livestock is worrying. Without some sort of assistance, it can take 10 years to rebuild a herd. This is 10 years of insecurity and increased vulnerability to shocks such as food shortages, droughts and floods (keep in mind, the last major food crisis in Niger was just 5 years ago in 2005). Paying attention to livestock (as part of an attempt to protect livelihoods) decreases aid dependency and dramatically increases the ability of disaster-affected populations to build back their own lives. It may seem crazy to spend money on looking after cows and sheep when people are starving but (without obviously leaving people with nothing) putting money into LEGS activities in the short-term will leave people better and sooner able to cope without protracted food assistance programmes and potentially less vulnerable in the longer-term as well.

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