This issue of the journal 'Humanitairan Exchange', has a special feature which focuses on the humanitarian crisis in the Sahel region of Africa, where aid agencies estimate that more than 18 million people are affected by food insecurity. Peter Gubbels argues that the main cause of this crisis is not drought or a food shortage but a ‘resilience deficit’ which has left vulnerable people unprotected against shocks like rain failure and exceptionally high food prices. Northern Mali has been hit doubly hard by a poor harvest in 2011, followed by political unrest and violence in 2012. In his article, Jean-Nicolas Marti explains how the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is working to improve access to people in need in northern Mali by promoting acceptance of humanitarian principles among belligerents there. Authors Amanda Farrant and Jeff Woodke explain how NGOs are helping communities to build resilience in Burkina Faso and Niger, and Nanthilde Kamara, Madeleine Evrard Diakite, Emily Henderson and Camilla Knox-Peebles look at Emergency Market Mapping Analysis (EMMA) in Chad. Zahairou Mamane Sani, Andrea Stewart and Caroline Draveny illustrate the benefits of coordinated needs assessments in Niger, while Ousmane Niang, Véronique Mistycki and Soukeynatou Fall review the impact of social safety nets in promoting behaviour change. Finally, Jessica Saulle, Nicola Hypher and Nick Martlew highlight the ways in which Household Economy Analysis can improve social protection programming.