Friday, July 27, 2012

Responding to Emergency Food Crisis in West Africa

Erratic rainfall, meager harvests, and the lingering effects of an earlier food crisis in 2010–have combined to put more than 18 million people at risk of hunger in the Sahel region of West Africa. Statistics are hard to grasp on their own. Sometimes they are just numbers. But let's look at an example. The state of New York has 19.4 million residents. That's slightly more than the people at risk in the Sahel. But imagine if every man, woman and child in New York state was at risk of hunger. Now we see have a little more perspective.

Oxfam paints an even clearer picture with the infographic below, which has information about who is affected and where.
Click on image to enlarge

"Manmade difficulties in the surrounding region are also contributing to the problem," said Catholic Relief Services (CRS). "The violence in Nigeria and instability in Ivory Coast has restricted the migration of people who depend on seasonal work. Workers returned home from Ivory Coast and Libya due to political violence in 2011, ending a flow of remittances that has affected many families in the region."

While drier-than-normal conditions in the United States represent some threat to our food system (through higher prices), what we're facing is nothing compared with the drought in the Sahel.  Read more in CRS blog post Sahel Food Crisis: Finding the Poorest of the Poor in Niger

And even though  the crisis has an impact across generations, UNICEF warned back in February that an emergency response was needed to treat an estimated caseload of over 1 million children who will suffer from severe acute malnutrition in 2012.  The UN organization appears to have secured enough funding to ensure treatment for at least those childre.  And according to Doctors without Borders (also known by its French name of Medicins sans Frontiers, MSF), this is good news in the short term.  But the situation exposes a long-term problem in the region.

Said MSF pediatrician Susan Shepherd: "It’s both a failure and a success. The failure is that each year, countries within the Sahel will face recurrent, large-scale nutritional crises that are growing even worse in some countries. One million malnourished children—that’s an enormous figure. But the most important take away from this year is how all of the aid actors—governments, United Nations agencies, and NGOs—have managed the crisis. Because of this, the major success is that for the first time, one million malnourished children will be treated in the Sahel, and the vast majority of these one million children will recover."

Read full interview with Dr. Shepherd and  MSF nutrition specialist Stéphane Doyon

Some Responses

MSF runs 21 nutritional programs in the Sahel region, nine of which opened this year in response to acute needs in parts of Chad, Mali, Senegal and Mauritania. Three additional programs are planned to open in the coming weeks.  Of the 56,000 severely malnourished children treated by MSF in the Sahel between January and the end of June, more than 36,000 were treated in Niger. MSF teams are also working in northern Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania to assist people displaced by conflict in Mali. Support MSF in the Sahel and other regions
Oxfam has a plan that looks beyond emergency food and medical aid.  The organization aims to help 1.2 million people across seven countries with programs that include cash transfers and cash-for-work initiatives, veterinary care for the livestock on which many families depend, and access to clean water and sanitation. The organization is also  campaigning to change the root causes of this crisis. Find out how you can support there efforts.

Church World Service is helping to provide food and other emergency assistance to more than 83,000 people in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Senegal through Christian Aid. This includes targeted distribution of nutrition packs, with locally purchased food items, to  malnourished children and their mothers.  The organization  is also helping communities supply their own food through projects led by Christian Aid. These interventions provide farmers with seeds, tools and animal fodder, support community cash-for-work projects to control erosion, subsidize rice sales by local farmers and promote sustainable livestock management. Assessments are underway to identify the most vulnerable households in the targeted communities, such as those with malnourished children or people with disabilities, and to provide them with further food assistance or cash transfers.   Financial contributions to support CWS emergency response efforts around the world may be made online, sent to your denomination, or to Church World Service, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515.

These are just a few examples of how we can become involved.  We can help financially, and that is desperately needed.  Funds go toward emergency needs as well as development projects.  Here are just a handful of organizations that provide assistance: Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services, United Methodist Committee on Relief, Lutheran World Relief, Episcopal Relief and Development,:Presbyterian Mission Agency.

But our actions are more effective when we remain aware.  We can have an impact on our country's policies for the region.  Two of the mini campaigns in Bread for the World's 2012 Offering of Letters would form a Circle of Protection around international food aid programs and poverty-focused foreign assistance.

And even though we don't know each person by name, we can hold them in our prayers. You can light a candle via CRS.or

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