Thursday, 30 October 2008

cold turkey - ill-advised motorbiking in Turkey, 2006

27 October 2006 – Cold Turkey

This place is cold. I am in Capadoccia where for centuries everyone lived in caves due to the interminable cold. Apparently when it isn't freezing everyone stays in caves due to the heat.

It is very beautiful but from a motor biking point of view I would have done better to come here a few weeks ago, before the hills were covered with snow. It would also have been clever to bring more warm clothes. Since arriving every article I own has been on my person at all times. My flip flops mock me from the bottom of my rucksack where they remain unused (swimming trunks have been used under jeans as poor man’s long johns). The wisdom of always bringing a second pair of trousers is apparent as I sit writing in a towel waiting for my jeans to dry on a heater. A hat made from the wool of several sheep has helped somewhat but does unfortunately limit blood supply to my brain.

Inspired by Ewan McGregor's motorbike ride around the world I have attempted to visit all local sites of interest on the back of a 200 cc Ramzey, a brand I had never heard of and whose performance and reliability will not be giving Yamaha directors cause for alarm.

Attempting to find cross country routes, an objective not without difficulties in a region renowned for its bizarre rock formations and deep canyons, I have suffered from engine trouble, my chain falling off, the visor from my helmet snapping off at high speed and the lid of my luggage storage unit also flying off causing much swearing from a Turkish man whose donkey narrowly avoided decapitation. These incidents, notwithstanding the justifiably aggrieved donkey owner, have demonstrated the friendliness of Turks as each breakdown has been fixed by the first passing vehicle. Nor would anyone accept payment, not even the guy who got covered in engine oil and rained on for 20 minutes putting the chain back on. This was something I could have fixed on my own as I know how to put chains back on but I didn't have a spanner to get the front panel off.


Sadly the first passing vehicle has often been a long time coming but these periods pushing the bike through mud and waiting at the side of the road have given me time to ponder the worth of carrying tools when travelling and also of knowing how to use them. The bike's rubbishness has also made hiring very economical as the bike guy has given me almost 2 days free rental to make up for my persistent technical problems.

I realised I had miscalculated when I woke up as it got light on my nightbus from Istanbul. Pouring rain, endless empty plains and a driving wind made it apparent why centuries of hordes from the east had decided to keep going when reaching central Anatonia and not stop here. From an afternoon dozing in the sun on a bench at the Topkapi Palace in sunny Istanbul I found myself alone, shivering in a bus shelter at 7am in a town that everyone else seemed to have had the good sense to leave. After a few hours passed out in a cave (hotel room) I went exploring and have carried on: through underground cities (attempts to divert from the route suggested by arrows led to me getting stuck, Pooh bear-like, in a tunnel and having to perform a lengthy, arse first, retreat into a small room full of retired Japanese people); through abandoned villages of houses carved out of cliffs, innumerable churches with colourful medieval frescoes and valleys of 'fairy chimneys'. In South America they call similar places 'valleys of the penises' and people go there to boost their chances of inception. Anyone attempting that here would probably die of exposure. Or maybe they are just more sober people in Capadoccia, or maybe cold climates inspire outward chasteness? Women wear the veil which with strong winds and rain whipping at the face is most sensible. People seem to be reasonably off in the villages: warm houses, modern tractors, much cheese, bread and tomatoes to share with those possessing broken, useless motorcycles. Tourism only seems to affect certain parts of the area although there is a certain amount of gentrification in some villages where smart Opels and Renaults are parked outside new houses built into the rock. There is still a lot of livestock living among people which is bad for bird flu but good for keeping warm. My attempts to scale the lesser trodden muddy paths were generally unsuccessful with most routes leading to sheer drops of hundreds of feet but did produce some good direction giving from people living in isolated farms on the high planes. These people were much poorer. The children didn't have shoes and wore plastic sandals with socks.

Tonight I’m taking a night bus back to Istanbul. The buses are brand new, spotlessly clean and very comfortable. For no good reason they stop every 2 hours for half an hour at bus stations where no one ever gets on or off. All this serves to achieve is to make sleep impossible but it does provide regular opportunities for bus washing which happens everywhere with much enthusiasm.

I’ve been in touch with the office of his All Holiness Bartholemew I, Patriarch of Constantinople, and hopefully will find someone to talk to me about Byzantine history tomorrow. It is sad that none of the Greek Orthodox people who built these incredible churches are here any more. Many of the frescoes have the eyes and faces scratched out. This was done by Turks shortly after 1923. When asked about what I do saying I work for the EU has been a good way to start conversation. The prosperous parts of Istanbul are very European but out here feels a long way from Brussels. No one I’ve met has been much bothered about the EU or whether Turkey joins. It seems to me that they’ve got to, not least because we promised they could ages ago and to turn them down now would be a massive snub from the only Muslim country that seems to like us and is able to demonstrate that you can be Muslim without rejecting European culture. It might have been better if Europe had never promised full membership as a possibility but we did and someday we’ll have to come good on that promise if only to show other Muslim countries that we don’t think we’re better than them. It’ll be a long time till areas like Capadoccia, and even longer for the non-touristy parts of eastern Turkey, have similar standards of living or life expectations to the rest of the EU. Maybe they never will and the acceptance of those different from us will fundamentally change the EU. No one likes what we’ve got at the moment so maybe that would be a good thing. An EU which helps stabilise the Middle East would be better than a constitutional union that burns money on subsidised agriculture and pointless Eurocrats like me.


The worst thing about the intense cold is that it reminds me that winter will soon come to my ice-box of a flat in Brussels and I’ve yet to discover a reliable wood source. I burnt a whole tree that was chopped down in a friend’s garden last year and fear I must return to the thankless task that is skip-hunting and balancing bags of logs on my crossbar.

RANT ON BRITISH POLITICS DURING ELECTION CAMPAIGN OF 2005

Questions that weren't asked on last night's "Question Time - Leaders Special".
1) Mr. Kennedy no one trusts Labour anymore, no one likes the Tories either. This is the best chance the Lib Dems have ever had and most of your candidates are campaigning on local litter collection issues. You are the only leader who offers hope but where is your vision? Why can't you get more people to like you?
2) Mr. Howard if Tony Blair is such a liar, and we all agree he is, why have you failed to lay a glove on him during the course of your leadership?
3) Mr. Howard, more soap in hospitals, tax revenues going up but taxes going down a bit if the economy does what you expect, allowing teachers to shout at bullies without being sued: these are your big ideas. They hardly set the pulse racing do they? Is this all you have to offer?
4) Tony, can I call you Tony? Thanks. Tony, we all loved you in '97, you were a pretty straight sort of guy. When you go to international meetings we are proud you represent us because you are cleverer than George, less greasy than Silvio, less French than Jacques and cooler than John Major or Thatcher ever were. Now we all think you are a liar. Where did it all go wrong and what might you have done differently?
5) Tone, for that is your name, mate, you keep on saying you had to make a decision over Iraq, and you did, and that is your job. 90 years ago Winston Churchill saw a threat, decided to launch a pre-emptive attack and it didn't go exactly as planned. That was Gallipoli and even though he made his decision, like you did, with the best possible intentions, he got it wrong and so resigned. We all think you got it wrong. Why won't you resign?
6) Finally "Big T" everyone knows apathy is a major problem. The Sun have called this the most boring election campaign ever. More people my age voted in Big Brother than will do in the General Election - in part because it is more entertaining. A big, Saturday night debate between you, Howard and Kennedy would be great TV. People would watch it who don't engage in politics normally. Also you'd be really good at it. Your mate George does them and he can't even talk properly. What are you scared of?

I feel better now.
Zander

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Africa fears contagion from rich world's money woes

http://africa.reuters.com/wire/news/usnLD53925.html

By Pascal Fletcher
DAKAR, Oct 14 (Reuters) - Diery Gueye doesn't have a bank account, a car or a house of his own, let alone a mortgage.
He hasn't heard of the global financial crisis that has sent markets tumbling and forced governments in the rich developed world to divvy up hundreds of billions of dollars to bail out collapsed banks and try to calm anguished homeowners and savers.
The only crisis he knows of is surviving day by day in his native Senegal, where the 45-year-old labourer barely earns enough to feed his wife and three kids and rent a room.
"It's tough ... sometimes I don't have work for two or three months," he says, speaking in the local Wolof language.
Welcome to Main Street Africa -- sprawling cities of dusty pavements, armies of poor and unemployed, chaotic traffic and bustling markets -- a world away from Europe or the United States in levels of individual wealth and of expectations.
In Senegal and across the world's poorest continent, millions in overcrowded cities and the remote bush eke out an existence on one or two dollars a day. Death, hunger and disease are the daily lot of many, especially in conflict zones like Darfur, Somalia, eastern Chad and Democratic Republic of Congo.
While African governments and educated elites are following the global banking crisis closely, the vast majority of their people have little grasp of sub-prime mortgages, toxic assets, bank bailouts and trillion dollar financial rescue plans.
But many do understand that when the rich world catches a financial fever, the planet's poorest may end up hurting too.
"I don't really know what it all means but I really hope that poverty here doesn't get worse just because they have problems," said Rose Camara, a Guinean housewife in Conakry.
"DEEP AFRICA"
"If the rich countries have problems, then that's going to end up coming here. You can count on it," said Ali Tapsoba, a garage worker in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou.
The debate is open on just how much Africa and its people will feel the pain of the financial turmoil in the rich world at a time the continent's economies had been growing at their fastest pace in decades.
There are those like Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade who believe the crisis will be "limited" for Africa, where banking systems and markets are poorly developed in many countries.
"This is marginal for 'deep Africa'. We're talking about 700 million peasants, poor people. For these people, as long as they have something to eat, they're not doing badly," Wade told Radio France International this month.
The octogenarian leader, who faces protests at home over power blackouts and high food and fuel prices, believes financial solutions alone will not solve the North's crisis.
Declaring "the survival of the world's growth is in Africa", he recommends Europe invest in African infrastructure projects, which he says will boost both European industrial output and African development, creating jobs in both continents.
But many, from the International Monetary Fund to the African Union, fear the developed world's credit crunch may choke aid, trade and investment to Africa, straining vulnerable economies already hurting from high food and fuel prices.
"The poorest countries don't have 700 billion dollars to bail out failing banks. The money invested in these problems in the North just isn't there in government budgets in developing countries," said Alexander Woollcombe, Food Security Advocacy Adviser of Oxfam GB's West Africa regional centre.
Major charities like Oxfam GB are expecting a fall off in aid donations. The British group is trimming its budgets by between 10 and 15 percent for next year, based on projections.
DIFFERENT PRIORITIES
Oxfam GB has drawn up figures showing just how far $700 billion earmarked by the U.S government for a financial rescue plan could go in helping to solve the poor world's problems.
It says this is enough to eradicate all world poverty for over two years, based on a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) calculation that it would take $300 billion to get the entire global population over the $1 a day poverty line.
The $700 billion could clear -- almost twice over -- the $375 billion accumulated debt of the world's 49 poorest nations.
According to Oxfam, the U.S. bailout figure is worth about 7 years of annual global aid levels ($104 billion in 2007).
The United States is also planning to inject $250 billion into its banks following European rescue pledges totalling more than $1.3 trillion.
Some analysts believe the predicted slowdown in world demand may cool off rocketing high food and fuel prices which have been throttling many poor food- and fuel-importing African economies
"So what we lose on one side, we could win on another," said Kalidou Diallo, assistant director of economic and financial studies at Guinea's Finance Ministry. But he and others say flagging demand could hit Africa's commodity exports too.
If the developed West cuts aid and investment, African states are saying they are ready to turn elsewhere.
"Our door is open. We're not blocking off our yard, we expect support from wherever we can get it," Cameroon Finance Minister Lazarre Essimi Menye told French radio.
Africa, he said, was already working with other major partners, like China. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: http://africa.reuters.com/) (Additional reporting by Diadie Ba in Dakar, Saliou Samb in Conakry, Mathieu Bonkoungou in Ouagadougou, Tansa Musa in Yaounde; editing by Ralph Boulton)
© Reuters 2008. All Rights Reserved.

US government put up US$700 billion to bail out financial institutions in one day, on 3 October, total global development aid for 2007 was $104 billio

GLOBAL: Donor response to food crisis inadequate, agencies say
Photo:

Just US$1 billion of the US$20 billion pledged by donors to boost agricultural growth has been released DAKAR, 16 October 2008 (IRIN) -

Food security experts say international donors’ response to the world’s food crisis has been inadequate when compared to interventions to contain the global financial meltdown. “Huge financial resources have been mobilised by the international community in a matter of days” in response to the global financial crisis, wrote Teresa Cavero in a report by the international NGO Oxfam released on 16 October – World Food Day. While the US government put up US$700 billion to bail out financial institutions in one day, on 3 October, total global development aid for 2007 was $104 billion, according to Alexander Woollcombe, food security advocacy adviser at Oxfam in Dakar. This year’s food crisis threw an additional 75 million people into hunger and poverty in 2007 according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The World Bank estimates there are currently 967 million malnourished people in the world.FAO says the financial crisis, following on the heels of the food price crisis, could deepen the plight of the poor in developing countries. Remittances dropping FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf stated in a 15 October news release: “Borrowing, bank lending, official development aid, foreign direct investment and workers’ remittances – all may be compromised by a deepening financial crisis.” There are no precise numbers yet about the impact of the financial crisis on developing countries, said Josef Schmidhuber, senior economist at the FAO’s Global Perspectives Unit, but he noted that when industrialised countries face a crisis, fewer people work and fewer remittances are sent to developing countries. “We’re already hearing noises from Mexico that fewer remittances are being sent back. These [remittances] are more important than credits and foreign direct investment,” he stressed. Mexico receives $22 billion in annual remittances, and Bangladesh $4 billion, according to Schmidhuber. In Haiti and Honduras remittances make up over 20 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Response ‘a slow trickle’ The FAO’s Schmidhuber said donors promised $20 billion in aid to agriculture at the Rome FAO conference in June 2008, but according to Oxfam, five months on just $1 billion of this has been dispersed. Oxfam’s Woollcombe said this is partly because “it takes time to distribute cash for agricultural production. The problem is it is not clear when or where it is actually coming.” The UN has estimated that $25 billion to $40 billion is needed to lessen the impacts of high food prices on developing countries. “With the new commitments of the financial crisis, I would not be surprised if we don’t get much more than the trickle that has arrived so far,” said Schmidhuber. The UK government’s commitment of US$ 1.4 billion pledged at the Rome meeting still stands, said Matt Wells, spokesperson for the UK Department for International Development (DFID). “Yes, there are challenges we are all facing, but we are continuing to call on other donors not to let the economic crisis deflect the fact that we need to remain focused on supporting those most in need,” Wells told IRIN. Building up resilience To boost vulnerable people’s resilience to crises, Oxfam and the Washington DC-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) stress the need for donors and international finance institutions to support ‘social protection’ such as aiding access to health and education, which they say will have a knock-on boost on their food-purchasing power. Such measures could include targeted cash transfers, nutritional interventions, and fee waivers on targeted services, according to an October World Bank report ‘Rising food and fuel prices: addressing the risks to future generations.’ It is the erosion of the global food system's resilience that underlies the food price spikes, according to Steve Wiggins, research fellow at the UK-based Overseas Development Institute. The world needs to replenish severely depleted global grain reserves, which have dropped from 30 percent to 19 percent of annual grain use, Wiggins said. “Rebuilding stocks would help to calm nerves and restore the resilience of the global food system.” See related story: Cereal banks in NigerFAO’s Schmidhuber said as an alternative to real grain reserves, which are expensive to build and keep up, ‘virtual grain stocks’ should be developed; developing countries would purchase the right to buy at subsidised prices. He said such alternatives would lead to a more efficient market that could also protect poor communities, adding that export bans and subsidies in the developed world distort markets and discourage production. Progress is being made on both sides, he said. “We are starting to see a convergence between the developing and developed world as they shift these opposing approaches.” As the FAO’s World Food Security Committee discusses these and other challenges in Rome from 14 to 17 October, Schmidhuber said governments should start by taking a simple step. “They need to do what they’ve said they are already committed to doing, and deliver the money.”

http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=80954

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Vampire Bats in Dakar

The first time a giant vampire bat swooped towards my head I squealed like a child, splashed and ducked my head under water. Unfortunately a group of boys saw me and were still laughing when I came up for air. Apparently fruit bats are harmless and only eat flies but they’ve a 4 foot wingspan and look like rabid killers. Quite why it’s OK for them to swoop towards innocent swimmers in Dakar’s (and apparently West Africa’s) only Olympic-sized pool isn’t clear. People are used to bats in Dakar. At sunset the muezzin’s call to prayer disturbs huge clouds of them from the main mosque nearby. They take off in scary black swarms (flocks?) towards the sunset as women prepare supper, men pray, boys play football and girls do whatever little girls do – chat mostly and play. All on the street. It’s a good temperature to be out of doors. There are always power cuts so it's too hot inside. Everyone chats. No notice is taken of the clouds of bats flapping noisily overhead or the spectacular sunsets which turn the air a translucent orange. It’s just recompense for a day spent hiding from the heat of the sun. The weirdest thing about working in Dakar is that in my flat and office I could be anywhere (hot) on earth. It’s easy to forget it’s Africa and so my post-work explorations feel like being teleported from a ‘normal’ working life of emails into somewhere much more exciting. It doesn’t make the emails more exciting though.

Sunset’s a good time to be in the pool. After a day sweating in the office the water is refreshing and turns pink, then orange, then red. The boys larking around on the high diving boards (proper 10 metres high ones) get kicked out and are replaced by Senegal’s national swimming team. They’re training for the African Championships in South Africa in December. Lamine says he’d like to go to Europe. I launch into my spiel about it not being that great, especially without papers. ‘I don’t want to work there, I just want to swim’, he replies.

The only medal hope Senegal has is training in France. The guys here, despite what looks like a great facility, haven’t a chance. The team (mostly boys although some girls do swim) charge up and down each night with huge shoulders and tiny waists being shouted at by an enormous man in a billowing white Bou-Bou – the traditional Senegalese male outfit which is a large shiny robe of any colour that reaches to the floor and is accompanied by pointy leather slippers. No one pays any attention to me doing one length for every four of theirs. This is a relief as I am terrible at swimming. My attempts at backstroke or front crawl cause me to sink after, at best, four strokes. I can’t even do granny breast stroke as my dodgy knee won’t bend properly. Mostly it is an odd form of doggy-paddle on my back that propels me slowly up and down the pool. Looking up increases my peripheral vision thus reducing the chances of unforeseen bat attacks. It also allows me to watch the stars come out and the moon rise.

I’ve always hated swimming pools. They’re stuffy, smell, are too full of people and I’m crap at it. Always have been. Aged 7 I went to swim camp in Virginia. It was awful. Everyone else could already swim. I came last in every race. Foolishly I remarked to the teacher that when I looked through my goggles at the bottom of the pool I seemed to be moving in slow motion. “That’s coz yer darn slow boy” he replied. At the end of the week everyone got a swimming certificate apart from me. Out of 30 I was the only one who failed, “I wanted to pass yer son, butcha got understand I couldn’t”.

Arriving at boarding school aged 13 I walked into my room to find a 6 foot man mountain lifting weights. I had a blue blazer with brass buttons, bum-flaps and grey flannel trousers. He was a week younger than me but had a Kurt Cobain poster, an electric guitar, Hugo Boss suit, swam for Great Britain and within two weeks was shagging a girl in the year above. Although Millfield had an Olympic-sized pool I only went twice. After the Christmas holidays in 6th form he asked me what I’d done, “ate a lot, watched telly, you?”. He pulled out a silver medal from the World Swimming Championships. Good bloke though, probably saved me from getting beaten up. I did his GCSE coursework a few times. Inexplicably we thought a good idea for a house skit was to do a jungle version of ‘Unchained Melody’ with me singing and him MC-ing. 25 teenage boys disagreed loudly. Tough crowd. It wasn’t a good idea but that kind of experience brings you closer. Every day for 10 years he got up at 6am, swam, did weights or circuits at lunch and then swam from 4-7. In Sydney there was 0.1 of a second between Olympic silver and 5th place. He came 5th.

In Dakar, the pool is surrounded by a massive grandstand which I’m always relieved to find empty, a wall with palm trees above it, a gym and a building site. Angry sounding men in white suits do martial arts while others lift weights to the mellow Senegalese rhythms in the gym. Occasionally they break out loud techno. The building site is part of a recent Dakar-wide construction and house price boom. The credit hasn’t crunched as apparently it is paid for in large part by laundered drug money. Lower bonuses should mean less cocaine but drugs seem resilient even in a downturn. As someone once said “dope gets you through times of no money better than money gets you through times of no dope”. Despite this there doesn’t seem to be much of a drugs scene here or the violence that usually comes with it. Nor is there much drinking, as you’d expect in a Muslim country. Maybe these bad things will come but there’s little sign of it yet and it would be a disaster if it did: West Africa’s struggling on every development indicator going and they don’t even have wars to explain why this is happening. Political stability is Senegal’s main asset. Without it the country’s stuffed.

People are laid back and inclined to take things as they are. ‘Inshallah’ (God willing) gets used a lot when it comes to what’s going to happen. Civil disobedience is rare (except for after football matches – Senegal drew with Gambia last week causing riots – it was the first time for over 40 years that they’d failed to beat a country whose borders mark the distance British cannons could fire inland from the Gambia river 100 years ago).

However, the daily power cuts across Dakar are causing real anger, not least because electricity bills are extortionate. The grid’s not very good so loads of power is lost within the system and it simply can’t provide all the power Dakar needs. So someone sits in an office and flicks power off and on between different parts of town. Sometimes this is good (this morning it went off at 8am forcing me out of bed in time to get to work) but it wears you down when it’s every day (I want to sleep now but it’s roasting) and last weekend there were mass protests-cum-riots. They worked: since then that part of town hasn’t had a single power cut and we’ve had more. Maybe we should riot. Power cuts make you more social: you have to go outside. The last few times it’s happened I’ve gone swimming: it’s peaceful in the dark. You just have to watch out for the Vampire bats.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

World Food Day

Did anyone notice? It was a pretty big deal for me.

Oxfam organised a meeting of Senegalese NGOs with a nice man from the Senegalese Government's agriculture ministry to talk about the impact of high food prices, what Senegal is doing about it and what else it should do.

We got about 25 people, Senegalese and international journalists and NGOs, agricultural experts as well as donors. It was strangely similar yet different to similar launches I was involved in with Oxfam in Brussels: it's always easier to talk about something than it is to do it. There are far fewer people scrutinising what is going on here I guess because there's just not so much money to do that kind of thing.

The panelists knew what they were talking about and it was interesting to hear different views on what should be done. The Government guy was pretty game and answered questions more directly than many EU folks do. He did say that everything was going amazingly well however.








Wednesday, 15 October 2008

West Africa's Capital Crunch

“My worry about this financial crisis is that when times are hard people turn their eyes away from the struggles of others. It is the loss of solidarity I fear”. Maguette Fall, Gandeol, Senegal.

Last week I travelled around northern Senegal visiting villages where Oxfam works to improve food security. In Bagonde and Baélé people are pastoralists: they trade their goats, sheep and cows with millet and rice from nearby (a few hours by foot or donkey) markets. Soaring food prices have had a devastating impact: the cost of rice has doubled in less than a year.
“I used to sell one goat for a big bag (50kgs) of rice. Now I must sell two. If the situation does not change all my animals will be gone”, said Bilaly Moussa Ka.

Occasionally the radio of our Citroen minivan (setting off I was pleased not to be fulfilling the cliché of NGO worker in white 4x4. By the third time I had to push sodding Citroen out of sand so hot it burnt my feet through flip flops I was less pleased) would splutter to life bringing snippets of BBC World Service or Radio France International. Every time it did the news was of fresh catastrophes on world financial markets that felt totally irrelevant. People in Bagonde and Baélé are experiencing a capital crunch, not a credit one. Their losses are not on paper but in the diminishing size of herds built up over generations.

Many people are chronically food insecure: even when times are good they don’t produce enough to feed themselves till next harvest: if it’s not the high price of rice, it’s drought, or floods, or pests eating the crops. Birds have been the biggest problem this year. Apparently lobbying by Japanese bird NGOs stopped their Government donating bird-scarers to Senegal. Plastic bags on sticks are not effective scarecrows but that’s all they have. As the villagers cursed the brightly coloured, beautiful birds which have decimated their crops I tried to cover binoculars and ‘Birds of West Africa’ book with my Panama hat.

“Crisis” is a constant state of being here so they are used to coping. However, each year that they do makes them less able to deal with “crises” in the future. Only eating two meals a day with smaller portions, selling firewood even though it destroys the topsoil they need to feed their animals takes its toll.

The rains this year were the best since 2000: the grass is long; animals and children run around having a good time. Those in the village able to afford seeds are about to harvest their millet. “With what I have planted I hope to be able to feed my family for at least two months”, said Amadu Diallo. “Of course I worry about the future”, he responded tersely when I asked him.

Ultimately Amadu will have to do what he and so many others have done before: migrate to where there’s work: Dakar, Cote D’Ivoire, Gabon or Europe. Many in Bagonde and Baélé already rely on money relatives send home to stay afloat.
It’s not everybody though, an hour down the road I met rice farmers by the river Senegal who talked enthusiastically of buying machinery, expanding production and irrigation systems and finally competing with imported, Asian rice. They’re thriving on high food prices.

In Bagonde and Baélé it felt insensitive to ask people about the credit crunch: why had I travelled for hours down dusty tracks to villages with no electricity to ask about something which bore no relation to their problems?

Humanitarian or financial: these crises are man-made. They happen because no one asks the right questions or takes action early enough. There’s growing concern that the credit crunch will cause aid budgets to be slashed and development to slip off the political radar. The people of northern Senegal aren’t a humanitarian disaster yet, but they’re getting there, as are millions of others across the arid Sahel belt south of the ever-expanding Sahara. Turning our eyes away from the struggles of others risks storing up bigger problems for the future.