The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Over 15 million severely food insecure in Africa’s Sahel region

Posted in Food Security by NTSblog on May 8, 2012

A severe hunger crisis is emerging in Africa’s Sahel region, with an estimated 15 million currently threatened by food insecurity and a total of 23 million at risk. Reportedly 600 children are dying every day the area from undernourishment, and the United Nations has warned that one million children face potential severe malnutrition.

Drought and failed rains in the region have placed acute stress on food availability. The Sahel, which incorporates a dozen countries in a belt across Northern Africa, already faces long-term environmental constraints including desertification from over-farming and over-grazing. Countries affected by the current crisis include Mali, Mauritania, Chad, Burkina Faso, Niger, Cameroon, Nigeria and Senegal.

In response to the hardship, millions of households across the region have applied necessary but perilous coping methods including the sale of valuable assets and livestock, keeping children home from school, decreasing food intakes, and including items such as wild leaves in their diet. Many of the communities affected are located in areas difficult for relief efforts to access, both geographically and logistically. The stress on food availability and access has been compounded by thorny political dynamics in the region and varying levels of ability between countries to deal with the situation. Furthermore, conflict in Mali has led to over 200,000 people fleeing the country in recent months to poorly resourced refugee camps in neighbouring Mauritania, while Chad must feed refugees that have fled from conflict in Darfur.

Almost a billion dollars has been sought in funding for relief programs since warnings of a potential humanitarian crisis were first raised in early 2012. The United Nations raised US$750 million from donors, while a grouping of four international NGOs – Save the Children, Oxfam, Action Against Hunger and World Vision – is well short of the funding pool of US$250 million dollars it seeks to raise for its crisis relief efforts.

Hundreds of nutrition rehabilitation treatment centres and programs have been established by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) along with these organisations in recent months. Beyond the emergency response, Medecins Sans Frontieres states that with malnutrition rates of 30 per cent in some areas of the Sahel, the current situation should be considered not only an isolated humanitarian crisis but a deep and enduring public health problem. It advocates an approach for long-term improvement that incorporates effective medical and nutrition measures into basic healthcare services, such as vaccinations, which are already in operation across the region.

An effective and immediate boost to the existing emergency response is critical, however, given concerns that the nutritional crisis could worsen dramatically over the next few months given that the next harvest will not come through until October 2012. The World Food Programme says that it has approximately three to four weeks to raise the US$450 million needed to fund its relief operations. Most United Nations agencies are likely to revise and launch new funding appeals to reach a new collective target of US$1.5 billion, given the complexity of slow and fast-onset crises happening simultaneously, and the aid groups are continuing their appeal.

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