Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Introduction to the Sahel Food Crisis

Below are excerpts from the United Nations Office for the Coordination
of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) publication "Emergency Relief
Coordinator's Key Messages on the Sahel," released February 10, 2012.
Despite being a few weeks old, the text still gives a succinct summary
of some of the food security challenges faced by the region I am
working in.

"Across the Sahel region of western Africa, a combination of drought,
poverty, high grain prices, environmental degradation and chronic
underdevelopment is expected to plunge millions of people into a new
food and nutrition crisis this year. Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania,
Niger, Senegal and Chad, as well as northern Cameroon and northern
Nigeria are all likely to be affected. For many people, the crisis has
already begun. An estimated 10 million people are struggling to get
enough to eat, including 5.4 million in Niger. More than 1 million
children under the age of five are at risk of severe acute
malnutrition.

Last year, despite warnings, governments and aid organizations did not
respond early enough in the Horn of Africa. This year, in the Sahel,
early warning must be followed by early action ... Early action means
prepositioning emergency food assistance, supporting blanket feeding
for malnourished children, and making available life-saving treatment
for acutely malnourished children. Early funding will be necessary to
secure the resources required. Several Sahelian governments have put
forward plans to deal with the crisis at hand, and build resilience to
avert future emergencies. The humanitarian response is only one part
of a longer-term comprehensive strategy - involving local communities,
governments, regional organizations, private businesses, development
agencies and many other players … which will result in building the
longer-term resilience of vulnerable communities.

Insecurity is making the work of humanitarian organizations more
difficult. A growing rebellion in northern Mali has forced many
humanitarian actors to leave the region and thousands of people have
fled the conflict, resulting in internal displacement in Mali and a
growing refugee caseload in neighboring countries. In addition, arms
and drug trafficking have led to a rise in banditry in many parts of
the region. For the most part, aid agencies continue to be able to
operate and reach people in need, but the risks need to be managed
carefully.

Across the region, international agencies have called for more than US
$720 million to support national efforts to respond to the crisis. To
date, donors have provided $135 million, and relief activities have
already begun. But we need more resources now. To prevent a
large-scale crisis, we need to act now."

OCHA is a United Nations office that seeks to "mobilize and coordinate
effective and principled humanitarian action in partnership with
national and international actors."

As the current hungry season progresses I will continue to update this
blog with my own experiences and observations related to the food
crisis and its management.