Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Aid agencies to feed Gambians amid worsening food crisis

Maize grains
Amid worsening food crisis in the Sahel region of West Africa, international aid agencies respond to calls by the Gambia Government to help feed her people.

The country suffered a serious drop in crop production in 2011 blamed on late and erratic rains. As a result, local citizens are already running out of food supply.

United Nations and international aid agencies warn in February 2012 that drought and food shortage in the Sahel is threatening lives, with an estimated over 20 million people to go hungry.

They warn of a humanitarian catastrophe at a time when “international donors are starving Africa’s Sahel region of money” needed to avert a disaster. 

Four months after farmers in rural districts experienced poor harvest, the Gambia Government was compelled to declare a state of emergency in early March and resort to seeking external help from friends and development partners. 

The poor harvests of rice, groundnuts, millets, maize and sorghum had left villages in rural-Gambia with just two months of food supplies, contrary to the “usual” 4-6 months.

Close to one million Gambians are in dire need of food aid as they are already running out of stock. Gambia’s Agriculture Ministry has since put the percentage of crop failure during last year’s farming season at 70.

One meal a day  

Last week, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) in Gambia announced it will provide immediate food assistance to 62,500 people in the areas most affected by the recent drought.

The response will last for two months, from April 1, and will cover five rural districts.

“We need to intervene immediately to avoid a further deterioration in the nutrition status of the most vulnerable, especially women and children. We will provide rice and peas as well as fortified foods that contain important nutrients, such as oil with vitamins A & D, fortified cereal and iodized salt,” WFP Gambia Country Director Vitoria Ginja said. 

The situation has already forced rural farmers to resort to just one meal a day, selling off their livestock and eating seeds and grain originally set aside for planting, according to reports.

WFP is set to work in coordination with the Government, partners and local committees, with an immediate relief operations pegged at US$1.3 million. But warn that food aid is needed urgently to provide follow-up support, focusing on livelihoods recovery and the prevention and treatment of malnutrition.

Get worse

Earlier, Action Aid International-The Gambia, AATG, announced it will provide 50,000 people with urgently needed food aid and drinking water. 

The international anti-poverty organization said it observed that with extensive crop failure and seriously inflated food prices, Gambia’s situation will become “extremely serious” unless emergency measures were put in place immediately. 

“The effects of the drought have been made even worse by rapidly rising food prices, which are 25% higher than last year’s,” said Action Aid’s country director for The Gambia, Dr Kujejatou Manneh, who warn the situation can get worse, as water for both people and animals becomes insufficient as the dry season progresses.

Nonetheless, Action Aid cautioned Gambia-Government to focus in the long-term on better irrigation schemes and livelihoods diversification to help people become more resilient to weather related crises like droughts.

Gambian President, Yahya AJJ Jammeh
Yahya Jammeh’s government says the country urgently needs US$23m, a sum apparently enough to provide food relief, seeds, and fertilizer to victims of the developing food crisis for a short term. National seeds requirement is put at 25, 000 MT valued at US$10 Million, fertilizer requirement is estimated at 37, 500 MT valued at US$8 Million and food relief is estimated at 40, 000 MT valued at US$5 Million, budgets the agriculture ministry.

“When you are hard pressed by circumstances like that, it is better to beg than to see your people dying,” President Jammeh told State-TV on March 8 after returning from his first aid-seeking-trip of Doha, Qatar.
Given the prevailing circumstances, Gambia’s former president, the first to respond to the government’s call, give up his month’s salary of D50, 000, more than $1724 to support relief efforts.

Largest coverage

The largest intended coverage so far comes from the UN System in The Gambia, which said it is providing immediate humanitarian support and recovery assistance to over 300,000 people.
The support is expected to cover 19 of 25 affected districts in the country and will end in September 2012. The relief will cover partly over half a million people, among them, more than 67,000 children under five and over 26,000 pregnant and lactating women.

“We should be ready at all times to manage both present and future climate-related risks to ensure that the vulnerable are protected from hunger and disease,” stressed resident coordinator for the UN System, Chinwe Dik√©, whose institutions has mobilised  US$ 4.8 million through the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and contributions from other UN Agencies.

Written by Modou S. Joof

Follow on Twitter: @thenorthbankeve

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