1. Mali and Niger: Dealing with drought (IRIN, AFP)

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Hundreds of residents of Toya, in northwestern Mali, wait patiently in single file. They clutch small containers. Today, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will distribute meat. They bought the meat from farmers whose animals were dying from lack of food and water.

Mohamed Ali, the local representative of the ICRC, explains, “The ICRC buys the weakest animals, kills them and distributes the meat to the needy.” The organization pays more than the current market price. Mohamed Ali continues, “The ICRC operation is original and good for the people, especially farmers.”

Drought has hit hard. Dead animals litter the roads in Timbuktu region. Ponds that normally contain water at this time of year are empty.

“We feel powerless,” says Atum, a livestock breeder from Gourma, in northern Mali. “You see a cow who is thirsty. She dies, but you’re more concerned with saving the rest of your herd.”

Poor rainfall in 2009 contributed to the situation. In addition, livestock numbers are high this year, according to the Ministry of Agriculture in Mali.

In Niger, the ICRC estimates that drought threatens 70 percent of herds. Haido Abdul Malik, from Niger’s Ministry of Livestock and Animal Husbandry, travelled across the country to see conditions for himself. He is alarmed. There is hardly any grazing land left, animal feed is expensive, and animals are sick.

“We have seen cattle worth CFA 150,000 (300 American dollars) sold to butchers for CFA 3,000 (six American dollars). That is not even enough to buy one bag of animal feed,” says Malik.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, herders have done their best to cope with the looming difficulties. Many moved with their animals when they were still able. Some sold animals when the price was good and bought animal fodder on time. Jan Eijenaar, from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Office says supportive government policies are needed. He suggests more could be done, including stockpiling fodder.

In Mali and Niger, rebuilding herds will take time. But at least those animals with a chance of survival are now receiving veterinary care and feed.