|Natural Resources Development in the Sahel: The Role of the United Nations System (UNU, 1986, 95 pages)|
In 1983-1985, drought in sub-Saharan Africa was a topic of world-wide concern as it had been in 1968-1973. In both cases, it was only after several years of deficient rainfall and poor harvests that the resilience of the people was sapped and the human suffering became dramatic enough to capture widespread attention. In 1983-1985, however, many of the public and private aid organizations had sufficient presence in the field to fully recognize the extent of the problem as it developed. Memories of the 1968-1973 drought in the Sahel helped give credibility to field reports, and past experience facilitated communication and cooperation among relief agencies. While the severity of the situation and the difficulties of responding effectively cannot be overestimated, it is clear that the response of the international community was a considerable improvement over the relief efforts of 1973-1974.
These periodic severe imbalances between food production and human requirements are usually termed "natural disasters", and it is generally assumed that the problem will disappear once nature returns to "normal". Those who have worked in the sub-Saharan zone known as the Sahel realize that the problem will not disappear with the first growing season with adequate rains. Even a cursory review of basic facts will quickly indicate that millions of people are caught in a spiral of poverty and malnutrition.
Since 1975 more than US$1,000 million in development assistance has been provided annually to the eight member countries of CILSS (the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel). This unique political group, formed after the 1968-1973 drought to rationalize development efforts, includes-from east to west-the countries of Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta), Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, the Gambia, and Cape Verde. While the first priority of CILSS is to attain self-sufficiency in food production, after ten years there is little to suggest that this objective is being achieved.
Improvements in health care, education, nutrition, the standard of living, and life expectancy have also been sporadic at best. Given the relatively large influx of development assistance and the fact that 80 per cent of the population is directly dependent on agriculture, one must wonder whether the natural resource base is sufficient to even begin to meet human needs for food, clothing, and shelter during any but the best years.
These were the general concerns that led me to undertake the present study. I have focused on the efforts of the United Nations system partly because of the need to make the vast subject more manageable and partly because of my familiarity with the UN system. In many ways the UN efforts are a microcosm of all aid flowing to the Sahel, for the diversity and interactions of UN organizations and their funding sources reflect virtually all possible development topics and methodologies. Hence much of the present monograph is devoted to documenting the diverse UN activities and their respective modes of operation.
Similarly, the thematic focus of the report is on natural resources development because the vast majority of the population are, and will continue to be, directly dependent on the existing soil, water, and vegetation resources for their livelihood. There seemed to be a need to question whether aid programmes have been able to develop stronger, sustainable production systems, or whether they have contributed to the region's instability by permitting much higher human and animal populations which are then destined to decline precipitously during periods of unfavorable climatic conditions.
As the study progressed, two serious limitations became apparent. The first was a lack of scientific data to evaluate either the trends in resource quality or the effects of different development activities on the resource base. This difficulty can be ascribed partly to the limited research capability in the Sahelian countries, partly to a justifiable emphasis on development rather than scientific studies, and partly to the problem of gaining access to scattered research that does not find its way into the mainstream of science. The problem of access was also the basis of the second major limitation, namely that each of the parties involved in development assistance has reasons to restrict access to its detailed project reports. Thus it has proved nearly impossible to evaluate the impact of development projects on the natural resource base in the way originally envisaged, and consequently more attention has been paid to political and administrative questions. I have provided some discussion of assistance to the Sahel from sources outside the UN system and of sectors not related to natural resources, but this is primarily to provide context and contrast.
The completion of a manuscript, particularly one with a relatively long gestation period, leaves one with innumerable debts of gratitude but limited space for acknowledgement. Dr. Walther Manshard stands out as pillar of support and inspiration; and his secretary for several years, Mrs. Phyllis Talley, helped type an earlier version of the manuscript. Dr. Stephen Preston, Dr. Kenton Miller, and Dr. Asit Biswas provided much of the initial feedback which eventually led to this publication. Among others, Dr. Jack Mabbutt, Dr. Brian Spooner, and Dr. Douglas Johnson provided guidance and insights gained from their extensive work in arid lands. A number of libraries and documentation centres have humoured me in my quest for non - existent or simply obscure references; these have included the OECD Development Centre in Paris, the Sahel Documentation Center at Michigan State University, the Office of Arid Lands Studies at the University of Arizona, and most recently the Documents Library at the University of California at Berkeley. The staff at the United Nations' Dag Hammarskjöld Library in New York were extremely helpful in guiding me through the UN documentation system and providing me with a pleasant nook in which to work; Mr. Nick Christonikos deserves special mention in this regard. Similarly, the staff of the United Nations University liaison office twice helped with extended stays in New York, and M. E. Leung provided assistance and support that has not been and cannot be fully acknowledged. The UNU staff in Tokyo have also been most supportive, despite my difficulty in meeting self-imposed deadlines. Sumiko Yokoyama and Motoko Kuroda still hold warm spots in my heart for typing and retyping the first version of this report. Kathleen Landauer has kept the administrative problems at bay and provided some early and crucial enthusiasm. At Berkeley, Dr. Louise Fortman graciously read through the manuscript, while Rosemary Warden deserves credit for cleverly converting my hard-copy writings and revisions into an organized, electronic form. Finally, thanks must be given to my wife and friends who have been given additional burdens or been forced to adapt to my schedule so that I could work on this project.
This preface would hardly be self-respecting or complete without the acknowledgement that, in the final analysis, what I have written is solely my responsibility. Inevitably, dealing with such a complex topic will result in some omissions or errors in interpretation, but these should not obstruct the broader picture. I only hope that this work will help lead to a more open and realistic debate on UN development assistance, and to clearer links between development assistance and an improvement in the lives of the people of the Sahel.