Ramata used to breastfeed her baby Mamadou, but like many mothers across West Africa, she no longer has enough food to feed herself let alone her children, and is now struggling to provide milk.
She explains: “We live in Nuoro Siry, a very small village in Matam where there is no drinking water. If I want to get clean water I have to walk for hours, but I cannot do this every day. I used to breastfeed Mamadou, but then I had to start feeding him rice. If I can, I give him cow’s milk, but people’s animals are dying from the heat and we have very little milk left.”
With depleting livestock and crops, many men have to leave their villages and families in search of work in the cities, leaving women to look after their children, often in a desperate situation, struggling to find food and water.
Women and children find themselves alone
Maimuma lives in the same village as Ramata. Her son, Hamady, suffers from moderate malnutrition and is unable to eat food without vomiting. Maimuna has taken him to the local hospital, which is supported by Action Against Hunger, where he will remain until he recovers.
"My son is nine months old and eats goat's milk, beef and porridge, but throws everything up,” she says. “Before coming to the hospital we went to a very small health centre and it took hours to get there. The health access in our village is very difficult and it is very bad if a child falls ill. Many men of the village have left for the city in search of work, which is why there are so many women and children alone. Our main work is agriculture but it does not rain. Life is hard, it is not easy to find food and we also have a problem with transportation because we have no means of travelling."
Many women have had to resort to extreme coping methods to feed their families, such as reducing their daily meals, gathering wild shrubs to eat, and even selling their household possessions.
Helping families weather the crisis
Salamata’s son is also severely malnourished. She says: "Amadou is one year old and spends most time sleeping because he has no strength. He does not grow; I feed him milk and cous cous with dried fish. In the village we have many problems with drought. The animals die and we have no milk to give our children. Sometimes we only eat one meal a day. It is very hot, now more than ever. The heat keeps us from doing anything, but we women have to walk for water. I have not lost any of my children but I have seen many women who have and could do nothing about it. There are some men who went to look for work ten years ago and have not returned yet.”
Action Against Hunger is working with communities across Senegal, providing malnourished children with life-saving treatment. Amadou, Hamady and Mamadou are all getting the treatment they need to make a full recovery and will be closely monitored over the coming months. Teams are also helping families to weather the crisis and prepare for the future ahead. But there still remains much to be done.