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Oxfam calls for climate insurance for West African pastoralists

by george-fominyen | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 1 December 2010 18:28 GMT

Current mitigation method of keeping vast herds to protect against effects of droughts not sustainable

DAKAR (Alertnet) - Government-sponsored climate insurance for pastoralists in West African’s arid Sahel region offers a solution to mitigate the loss of livestock due to recurrent droughts related to the effects of climate change, an Oxfam official has said.
Gilles Marion, Mali country director for the U.K based charity, said that pastoralists in the Sahel prepare for the now regular cycle of droughts by rearing vast herds in expectation that some would die when the crisis hits but they would be left with a few.
“Climatic insurance will be a solution because owners of livestock will know that if they lose a part of their herd, they will be reimbursed by an insurance system and they don’t have to rear vast herds,” Marion told AlertNet in Dakar.
He said the current mitigation method of keeping vast herds is not sustainable given the fragile conditions of the Sahel and the potential of conflict as populations continue to grow leading to competition for natural resources like water and land between graziers and farmers.
Experts say weather patterns in the Sahel, a vast region south of the Sahara desert, will become even more erratic due to regular droughts as a result of climate change.

This year thousands of livestock perished in the Sahel, dealing another blow to the 10 million people in the region who are hit by food shortages and whose lives also depend on livestock for income to access food.

In Niger about 20 percent of the pastoralists lost between 80 and 100 percent of their livestock.

In pastoral areas in Mali the average herd size had dropped by 40 percent between 2009 and 2010 after droughts led to a vast shortage in fodder and water, according to the United Nations.
“Owning animals or not owning animals is what makes the difference between somebody who is rich and someone who is poor and between a person who can buy food or one who can’t,” Marion said.
Even if people do not own livestock most still depend on the livestock because they work for those who own big herds, he added.
The government of Mali, some international donors and aid groups are currently involved in studies towards implementing the concept of climate insurance in the country, said Marion.
Oxfam recommends that the government should also consider systems to strengthen the purchasing power of vulnerable households that do not own big herds and often lose their small animals, such as goats and sheep  regularly.
Marion said the solution would be to run cash transfer and cash for work schemes, under the supervision of governments, at specific times in the year when these populations are hit by natural and socio-economic shocks that are common in the region. 
“This is to make sure that the most vulnerable people have a capacity to invest in their future,” Marion said.

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