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Monday, May 7, 2012

DANGEROUS PERIOD!

Women forced to search for grains in anthills in order to survive 

Agencies' emergency assistance to nearly 6 million people across the Sahel is less than one third funded - Pix: Oxfam
A coalition of aid agencies last Monday warned that millions of people across the Sahel will be left hungry in the coming months unless multi-million dollar funding shortage for crisis response is addressed.

The April 23 warning came in the wake of a “huge gap in funding” for aid projects aimed at preventing the deepening food crisis in the Sahel is threatening to leave millions of people hungry in the coming months.

Countries like Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, Senegal and The Gambia are the hardest hit by the crisis following poor harvest and high food prices in the region since 2010.

Action Against Hunger, Oxfam, Save the Children and World Vision are aiming to provide emergency assistance to nearly six million people across the region but say they have so far been able to secure funding for less than a third of this essential work. 

“Nearly US$250 million is needed by all four agencies, but only $52 million has been raised so far,” they revealed.

Action Against Hunger plans to reach 1 million but so far has only managed to raise a third of what it needs. Equally Oxfam has only raised a third of what it needs to reach 1.2 million people. Save the Children which has plans to help 2.5 million people has only managed to raise 15 per cent of its budget and World Vision plans to help 1.1 million people are only 20 per cent funded.

Dangerous period

In a serious tone, Steve Cockburn, Oxfam’s Regional Policy Manager in West Africa said: “There is no doubt that families across West Africa are entering a dangerous period, and we have already seen women forced to search for grains in anthills in order to survive. We are ready to bring assistance to millions of people, but time is running out to get programs in place before the crisis hits its peak and funding is urgently needed.” 

“We urge the UN to organize a pledging conference as soon as possible to ensure that 15 million people who risk going hungry are not left without the assistance they so desperately need,” Oxfam’s Cockburn exhorts.

Serious shortfall

Collectively, this shortfall is equivalent to over 2 million people being deprived of life-saving assistance and, if it remains, is likely to result in significant cutbacks in the agencies’ aid programmes.

The Gambia is not covered by the four agencies, however, the United Nations (UN) agencies helping to provide immediate food assistance to thousands of Gambians, has also been hit by the funding crisis.

Their parent body, the UN, has so far only managed to raise less than half of the projected $724 million required to tackle the crisis, while the funding gap is likely to grow further as the situation deteriorates and more money is required.

Malnutrition rising

Amid increasing malnutrition levels across the Sahel, the aid agencies are calling for a donor pledging conference to rally wealthy governments and donors to generously fund the total aid effort for the food crisis.

In Niger, Save the Children has only been able to deliver vital cash support to 1 in 10 of the families they plan to reach. “We are already seeing the number of malnourished children needing treatment rise, and unless we can scale up our programmes, it will continue to do so,” said Jeremy Stoner, Save the Children’s West Africa Director. “If we act early we can save thousands of lives. We have known that a hunger crisis is brewing in the Sahel for months, but without funding, there is little we can do to stop it.” “Addressing malnutrition – including in its most acute form here in West and Central Africa - should be high on the agenda of G8 leaders when they meet in the US next month,” Stoner stressed. 

Patricia Hoorelbeke, Action Against Hunger’s Regional Representative for West Africa, says: “In the Chadian Sahel, the global acute malnutrition rate already exceeds the emergency threshold of 15 per cent and admissions to our feeding centres have increased dramatically.” 

More than 2,000 severely malnourished children were admitted for therapeutic nutritional care in Kanem last month alone. We have deployed additional emergency staff and scaled up our programmes but further action is needed to prevent the situation from deteriorating, Hoorelbeke said.

In Mauritania, Oxfam is aiming to reach at least 70,000 people with desperately needed food and clean water. However, with a funding gap of over $1.3 million for its work in Mauritania the agency will only be able to reach half of these people. 

In the Gambia, 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.

Last month, World Food Prorgamme’s Gambia Country Director, Vitoria Ginja said: “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.”

Out of time

“We’re at a key moment in the fight to protect lives of children suffering crippling hunger and malnutrition. We’re already seeing people taking extreme measures to cope with the crisis,” said Chris Palusky, Response Manager for World Vision, who revealed “Some families are resorting to eating wild leaves; others are barely able to feed children one meal a day. We have to act now before the crisis reaches its peak when the most vulnerable will be among those dying from preventable hunger and malnutrition.”

In Niger the lack of funding has prevented World Vision from reaching over 15,000 malnourished children with a life-saving nutrition project and 22,000 people in need of clean water. 

“This is a desperate situation," Palusky added. "We've seen how our relief and rehabilitation projects can help save lives and protect communities against future crises when funding is available.”

Fund-starved Sahel

Drought and food shortages in the Sahel are threatening lives, with over 20 million people affected, most of whom farmers who found themselves in a catch-22 situation. 

In February 2012, the UN and international aid agencies warn of a humanitarian catastrophe at a time when “international donors are starving Africa’s Sahel region of money” needed to avert a disaster. 

By Modou S. Joof


 

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