It appears that food security in the Sahel region of West Africa is going from bad to worse.
In a recent report, ITN’s Africa correspondent Rohit Kachroo admits to being shaken by the sights he saw in a small hospital in southern Niger where he met baby Amina with vacant eyes, a skeletal frame and tufts of fluffy red hair in a ward filled with desperate children.
It’s heart breaking viewing and is made even more telling with the release of latest figures from the UN. Over 18 million people are now affected across the region with eight million adults and more than one million children in urgent need of assistance.
Even on the very edges of the Sahel – in The Gambia and Senegal on the Atlantic coastline where ActionAid works, this includes a third of The Gambia’s population and six per cent of Senegal’s.
So what’s causing the crisis? As ever it’s a combination of factors – a perfect storm if you like – including drought, high grain prices, decreases in remittances from family members overseas because of the financial crisis, environmental degradation, poor government performance in the region and displaced populations, all coupled with chronic poverty and vulnerability.
The UN says the region needs £1 billion to stop the crisis turning to catastrophe.
That’s a huge figure. Yet to make a real difference it’s definitely needed and the response will, as ever, be a joint effort including local governments and people, aid agencies and international donors.
With luck, most money will be donated by governments such as the UK and France plus huge donors such as the World Bank and EU.
I already know that £25.4 million of UK Aid is covering responses in Niger, Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad. But that doesn’t include every country that is affected.
ActionAid is therefore using the money generously donated by our supporters and also by Trust Funds to concentrate our efforts on places others have missed.
This is what you are helping us to do:
• The Gambia: distributing staples such as rice to 15,400, food for work programmes reaching 2,000 people and most importantly providing agriculture inputs such seeds and tools so that families can sow crops during the rainy season.
• Senegal: distributing rice, millet, sugar and oil to 12,800 families as well as locally sourced infant food made from banana flour, peanuts and baobab fruit to 2,900 0 to 4 year olds.
• Starting to assess how we can help families in north-west Nigeria where we are beginning to see reductions in the number of meals being eaten and people selling their assets for food.
We should never forget baby Amina. We should also never forget the families who whilst not in the eye of the storm are still suffering in countries on the edges of the Sahel and whose plight is not reaching the news agenda.