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Monday, March 1, 2021

Counting the rains by drops! Is humanitarian aid the solution?

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Rainfall is prominent for being the major source of water for agricultural activities in the country. We seem to be concerned about the threatening and increasing effects of climate change to our agricultural activities, yet we do not seem to act. Perhaps, with the current status, if rainfall stalls in the country, survival will cease. It is absolutely out of the curtains of safety, giving the increasing predictable droughts, to rely solely on rainfall for agricultural activities. When nature evolves, we need to adapt. Adapting to the changes of nature requires utmost strength with flexibility and intelligence. But one captivating thing that seems to weaken the global community is the inability or unwillingness to avert a disaster.  

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The world disgusts history, considering all angles of alerts for an approaching mess, they always lay blind. The world has all the means to foresee a disaster, but remains paralysed on the eve of its strike. I don’t need to mention the case of the Ebola in the sub region. It has spread its wings, instituted its authority- state of emergencies, in all its ‘territories’. It has dictated the way of life of its ‘subjects’. Wreaked havoc and instilled life-trauma, orphaned children before it was deemed worth paying attention. If the world warns of the increasing threat of climate change to agriculture, is there any contingency in case of a hard hit? May be, all plans are to secure funds for humanitarian aid relief services. The big nations have in stock lot for humanitarian aid for quick response. The world is proving too complicated for humanitarian aid dependency.  What the world need is the necessary mechanisms to prevent humanitarian disasters in the first place.  

I had put it to the UN Humanitarian Aid Coordinator for the Sahel Robert Piper, during a visit to The Gambia in July; that, isn’t it better to help Gambia install irrigation system that can serve as an alternative to rainfall?  He responded that it requires a long term investment and planning. Well, if the investment and planning had been started since 2001 then the 2011 food crisis would not have happened. The Gambia has an advantage to leave the food insecurity zone in the Sahel earlier than others, he told me. This, he said, is due to the availability of a long stretch of fresh water in the river Gambia, highly suitable for agricultural activities. Well, surprisingly, the world knows that The Gambia can escape food insecurity in a wider pace, considering its irrigation potentials. But is there any effort to help explore this avenue? However, Robert Piper’s office is not to blame, he does his work; he is a ‘humanitarian aid’ coordinator.  

The world seems to have other priorities than combating poverty. But unfortunately, terrorism and war cannot be wiped out in the face of poverty and oppression. If we want to counter war and terrorism we must first try and eliminate poverty or better reduce it. The world needs to eradicate social inequalities and injustices that continue to mirror 21st century world to the Stone Age. The mobilisation of humanitarian aid for avoidable disasters will not solve any issue, will only aggravate it. The world now prefers solutions than charities. In 2011, the UN raised an emergency alarm on the food crisis that hit The Gambia, a lot of humanitarian aid poured in. Giving the late and erratic rains of 2014, do we expect another call for aid? But will it be as satisfactory as that of the 2011? Robert Piper had lamented the shortages of funds for humanitarian relief efforts in case of 2014 food crisis. I believe if Gambia’s river potentials are well tapped, the issue of reoccurring food crisis will fade in the dust of history. If really the global community wants to help Gambia in the wake of food crisis, then what Gambians prefer is to avert such mishaps first. The UN and other powers can help exploit the river for an effective irrigation that can cultivate enough for national sustenance. The exclusive dependency on rain fed-agriculture is outdated. If the climate is changing, people and working styles have to change. The government is doing its part by supporting the sector, giving it the priority it deserves.  

More aggravatingly, is the borderless impact food crisis is having on the people. When there is less food, diseases bounce up; malnutrition flares up.  Acute malnutrition could be coped with, compared to severely-acute malnutrition- patients of this category have a slim chance of survival.  Let’s balance the situation. Do we see the outrage displayed when children are killed with the gun? What about those that are killed by “collective negligence”? Avertable disasters, when neglected, amounts to rights violation. Unfortunately and dishearteningly, whenever misfortunes strike, children fall victim.   

Now the time has come to sow the seed, which should have been sowed 10 years back. The setting of contingency plans is a wise move for any development-oriented endeavour. I had always dreamt of the day The Gambia will be emancipated from the hunger and thirst for rains. Rains are a natural and huge bounty from God. Some will argue that since the Stone Age, Gambians have ever depended on rainfall for cultivation, so there shouldn’t be any fear for the future. Well, did any one of them consider the threat climate change and man induced disasters that are to the supply of water by rain? Time and nature is changing- is evolving, the world need to act timely.  

When we talked about the possession of natural resources, some are bent naively on thinking about oil or gas. Well we may have all that undiscovered but the discovered alone are huge resources too. The exploitation of the country’s long stretch of fresh water for agriculture is worthwhile.  To my conviction, The Gambia has the endowment to become a leading rice exporter in Africa. The resources are there, the will and power has to be invested. We need to understand these phenomena to escape the venoms of disasters, or else we may live in developmental stagnation, filled with distress and calamities. Time is due, we must act now. 

I implore on the global community, international organisations and donors to reflect on the situation in The Gambia, for a sustainable long term solution. Help The Gambia to get in stock enough to give for humanitarian aid to other countries as well. The time to act has finally ticked! 



Abdoulie Sey is an editor at the Gambia Radio & Television Services.


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