The last bowl of rice in Sorhow's house

This is a guest post by Henry Makiwa, British Red Cross senior media relations officer, who recently went to Burkina Faso. There, he revisited Sorhow Mohamed. Two months ago, Sorhow’s family was already struggling for food – now they have almost run out.

It’s high noon in Tin Akoff village in north-west Burkina Faso. Temperatures are shaving 50 degrees celsius on the thermometer. Not a cloud hangs in the skies, not a bird dares to come out, and scatterings of cattle and goats hide in the shade of leafless trees.

Everything here is serene and quiet, except for some hushed chatter of two sisters who watch over a feeding toddler – while shooing off a troublesome goat that’s constantly attempting to eat from the same bowl as the minor.

From the entrance of his small dome-shaped hut, 71-year-old Thiombiano L’Oudalan beckons us in. This grass-thatch and canvas structure – a whole twenty-four square metres of it – is home to Thiombiano, his wife Sorhow Mohamed and their eight children.

Fighting for the family

Sorhow is not at home today as she is at a village women’s networking group, discussing how they may best support their families during the current challenging times.

Thiombiano says: “She is very resourceful. She doesn’t give up – she never tires of fending for her family.

“We have been fortunate to get the Red Cross vouchers so we have had some grains and rice for food. What you see the child eating outside, however, is the last bowl of rice in this house.”

Bad harvests

Residents of the small village of Tin Akoff in the Sahel region of northern Burkina Faso are predominantly farmers. They live off their land, growing the staple grains such as millet and sorghum every rainy season.

71-year-old Thiombiano L’Oudalan, Sorhow's husband

© Henry Makiwa/ BRC

Thiombiano tells us that the last rainy season was “unkind” and crops failed, resulting in food shortages for his family and 15.6 million other people across west Africa.

He explains: “Last year the situation was bad but it has never been as bad as this year. First was the drought and then the locusts came and ate everything left on the fields.

“For a while during this drought, we have relied on selling our livestock at the local market – we hardly have any animals left anymore. The price of food at markets has risen dramatically by two or three-fold in certain circumstances. We are in grave danger and we do not know what to do,”

Nothing left to give

The Red Cross has completed the first phase of its support to 1,100 vulnerable families in Tin Akoff. Each family has received ten food vouchers to be exchanged for bags of rice, cooking oil, salt and sugar at local markets and shops.

However, the Burkina Faso Red Cross is struggling to fund further work in Tin Akoff, Oudalan and Soum. According to Alid Adigrass, the Burkina Faso Red Cross president for the Tin Akoff, it is uncertain when the area will get more support. He says: “We don’t know when the next distribution will be under these conditions. It’s really bad.

“Families have been getting vouchers – which are like a currency to buy basics from local merchants – while mothers of young children have been getting cereals from Red Cross stocks. These are now running out which is why we desperately need the international community to give us a helping hand.”

The British Red Cross has launched an appeal to help the vulnerable in the Sahel region of west Africa. This appeal will help support people in the region now, and reduce their future vulnerability.

Since we last visited Sorhow’s family, the situation has got considerably worse. Help us stop the situation deteriorating even further for millions of people.

Donate to the West Africa Food Crisis Appeal

Read more about Sorhow and other people affected by the food crisis