Africa

Humanitarian disaster looms in drought-stricken Sahel

Mark Tran

Relief groups are stepping up their appeals for aid to tackle the worsening food crisis in the Sahel region where more than 18-million face hunger.

Save the Children, which has increased its emergency operations in the Sahel, this week said it faces a funding shortfall of almost $40-million.

Save the Children, which has increased its emergency operations in the Sahel, this week said it faces a funding shortfall of almost $40-million. The charity hopes to close the funding gap and raise extra money to help the 1.5-million people – including almost a million children – most urgently in need.

Relief agencies have been sounding the alarm for months about the effects of drought on the Sahel. The situation has been made worse by the knock-on effect of the Libyan uprising that has destabilised Mali. With the onset of the “lean season” – the next three months will be the driest and harshest period of the year – aid groups warn that the worst is yet to come.

“For months now, families have been telling us they have next to nothing to eat,” said Justin Forsyth, chief executive of Save the Children. “In Niger, mothers have little or no food to feed their children. Our analysis now shows just how bad the situation has become and confirms our worst fears: a major emergency is now upon us.”

Unicef, the UN agency for children, has doubled its appeal for funds to $238-million to help children affected by the food crisis.

Emergency response
Unicef said it aims to address the most pressing needs, including preventing epidemics through vaccination campaigns, and reducing the risk of malaria through the distribution of bed nets. So far the agency has secured $91-million for its emergency response.

Last week, the United Kingdom department for international development announced it was donating £10-million to the West Africa food crisis. The United States Agency for International Development has announced an additional $81-million in humanitarian assistance for the region, bringing its total aid this year to $308-million for the nine countries in the Sahel affected by a drought and food crises.

Unicef warned in December that more than one million children would need life-saving treatment for severe acute malnutrition and appealed for $119.5-million.

The figure has since gone up, as the conflict in Mali has forced 170000 people from their homes, with some seeking refuge in neighbouring Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger.

Save the Children, which works with government, the UN and other aid partners, said its analysis shows that in parts of Mauritania the poorest households are missing an estimated 80% of their basic needs for the months of June and July – and have already faced a deficit since January.

In one area of central Mali, the poorest families have less than 40% of the food they need to survive from June to September. As of this month in Burkina Faso, the poorest families will only have 30% of what they need for the next four months – unless they get help immediately. Save the Children experts warned that unless families get that help they will be forced to take drastic measures to survive, selling their remaining assets to buy whatever food they can until they have nothing left to sell.

 “The time to act is now,” said Forsyth. “We are asking donors not to wait any longer. Any further delays are sure to cost additional lives of children whose deaths we know how to prevent – and can prevent, if we have the means.” – © Guardian News & Media 2012

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