Meet Ben Safari – Caritas expert on the ground in West Africa

16 May 2012   |   Blog   |   Emergency Relief   |   Africa

Tags:  emergency aid, food security, Sahel, food crisis, West Africa   |   No comments

Ben SafariBen Safari is the Caritas network's West Africa regional technical advisor working between Adelaide and West Africa with Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

With nine nations and 15 million people in danger across West Africa, Caritas Australia would like to introduce you to Ben Safari, an Australian based expert in food security.

As drought grips the region, the list of affected nations has risen to nine including Burkina Faso, Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Chad, northern Nigeria and northern Cameroon.

To date, West Africa has been an “invisible” emergency within Australia, receiving little media attention or public support.

“We often see acute emergencies where the damage is done before we arrive. This is a protracted emergency playing out over months, so if we engage now, the full impact of the crisis can be avoided and lives will be saved,” Ben said.

“This looming crisis is invisible to Australians, but the reality is the potential for a full-scale catastrophe is real, and these are people with real families – husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, parents and children.

Malian refugee uses clean water to wash his hands

“More and more we will be confronted with questions of: how can I find clean water for my family to drink and are we going to survive this drought?” Mr Safari said.

Rwanda-born aid and development expert, Ben survived the 1990s genocide that saw the mass murder of more than 800,000 people in his home country.

Fuelled with a desire to fight poverty and oppression, Ben studied economics in Adelaide before moving to West Africa where he is a leading expert in responding to food crises in the region.

His home and family are in Adelaide but he spends much of his time in countries affected by the current food crisis, which include Burkina Faso, Gambia, Mali, Niger and Senegal.

Ben has an intimate knowledge of the big picture in West Africa and rare insight into the intricacies of delivering an effective and long-lasting response to a food crisis where malnutrition, famine and starvation can be avoided.

While working in the heart of this crisis, Ben will share stories and photos from the field, so keep an eye on our website for more from him.

About the situation in West Africa:

  • Poor rains and drought last year and pest infestation means this year’s harvest will not produce enough food. A spike in regional food prices has left people struggling to cover the gap in what they produce and what they need to buy. 
  • Fighting in northern Mali between the army and a rebel group has forced more than 170,000 people to flee their homes. Half have fled to other areas inside Mali and the rest to Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. The refugees arrive with nothing. They are being hosted by families in areas already struggling to cope with a lack of resources.
  • This is the third drought to have affected the region in 10 years. There were serious food crises in 2005 and 2010. Changing weather patterns and extreme weather conditions have made traditional rain-fed agriculture unsustainable.
  • Prediction of a crisis this year has led aid agencies and regional governments to ring the alarm bells early. It only costs $1 to prevent malnutrition for a person, but it costs $80 to treat that person after malnutrition has developed.
  • Caritas members are providing food, medical and other short and long-term assistance to the most vulnerable. Caritas will concentrate on providing infants and mothers with food.
  • Caritas’ work is aimed at supplying people with sufficient food to avert malnutrition, and at preventing harmful survival responses to the crisis (such as a farmer leaving his land to find food in the city, leaving nobody on the land to plant crops for next season). Caritas will also supply seeds so that small-scale farmers can plant for next year’s harvest.

The Caritas network of over 160 aid agencies is mobilising to meet the needs of those affected by this large scale humanitarian emergency.

For more information or to donate to the Caritas West Africa Crisis Appeal go to:

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