Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sahel Food Crisis Not Getting Any Better

Agencies’ emergency assistance to victims in Niger (Pix: Oxfam)
Imagine you having nothing else to eat except dried leaves, so dry you have to boil them nine times before they become “edible”. How about having no choice but to feed your small children with those leaves?

In Niger, this is just what mothers have to do as drought and high food prices in the Sahel region of West Africa are pushing more than 9 million people closer and closer to the edge of survival.

A coalition of aid agencies (Action Against Hunger, Oxfam, Save the Children and World Vision) who are aiming to provide emergency assistance to nearly six million people across the region, last month 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.

UN agency, the World Food Programme is one of many agencies working to address the hunger crisis, which has also been blamed on poor farm yields during a 2010/2011 rain-starved season.

The WFP, which is working with the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and other agencies, said it plan to reach nearly four million people with food, including refugees fleeing the conflict in Mali. Its efforts are focused on the most vulnerable to hunger.

The agency believes: “Together, we can build resilience within communities across the Sahel. We can give nursing mothers our powerful “Super Cereal”, providing them with the right nutrition to help their babies grow strong. We can give men and women food for their families in exchange for work building dams and planting seeds, in anticipation for when the rains finally do come.”

“At one project I visited, I was struck by the dignity that I saw in women’s eyes. These women are working to take back control of their lives and provide food for their families. Here, despite incredible hardship, there is hope,” says WFP Executive Director, Ertharin Cousin.

This is a complex crisis that stretches across Niger, Mauritania, Mali, Chad, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Gambia.

WFP, which has a long history of working with communities in the region, says it is “doing everything we can now to help people prepare for the lean season over the coming months.”

But said support is needed at this critical time. Like other agencies, the WFP is not immune to the funding gap. As of April 23, 2012, its parent body, the United Nations (UN), only managed to raise less than half of the projected $724 million required to tackle the crisis.

Action Against Hunger, Oxfam, Save the Children and World Vision have already projected that the funding gap is likely to grow further as the situation deteriorates and more money is required.

Overall, 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. 

Written by Modou S. Joof 

Follow on Twitter: @thenorthbankeve

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