Sahel Crisis: Urgent action needed to prevent catastrophe in the region

25 May, 2012
A young girl eats specially prepared and nutritious food at a health centre where severely malnourished children are treated. Children are among those most affected by the crisis; over one million are at risk of severe acute malnutrition across the Sahel region. 24 May 2012. Credit: OCHA/David Gough
A young girl eats specially prepared and nutritious food at a health centre where severely malnourished children are treated. Children are among those most affected by the crisis; over one million are at risk of severe acute malnutrition across the Sahel region. 24 May 2012. Credit: OCHA/David Gough

Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos wrapped up a four-day visit to Burkina Faso and Senegal calling for strong leadership and comprehensive response plans, as well as generosity from donors, to avoid the food and nutrition crisis in the Sahel region becoming a catastrophe.

“The humanitarian situation is expected to remain critical at least until the main harvest this autumn in Senegal and elsewhere. We can do more to save lives and avoid the crisis becoming a catastrophe, but we need strong leadership and coordinated and speedy action,” said Ms. Amos.

Ms. Amos, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs (USG) and Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC), visited the region from 20 to 24 May to assess the current level of response to the crisis. More than 18 million people are estimated to be affected by drought and severe food insecurity across eight Sahel countries, with over one million children at risk of severe acute malnutrition.

USG Amos met with Presidents Blaise Compaore in Burkina Faso and Macky Sall in Senegal to discuss how best humanitarian agencies can support national response plans and put in place practical measures to enhance community resilience. In Burkina Faso, where 2.8 million people are affected by the crisis, Ms. Amos, also launched an Appeal for US$126 million to support Government efforts. 

Failed harvests and growing hunger

In Senegal, where some 800,000 people are facing hunger, USG Amos witnessed food and seed distributions to vulnerable families in the village of Ndoulo, and visited a community centre where mothers learn how to recognize early signs of malnutrition and to prepare enriched food for their children. She also visited a health centre where severely malnourished children are getting treatment. All three are located in the Diourbel region, one of the areas worst affected by the drought. Many local families have lost their harvests and run out of food.

The USG’s first stop was in Burkina Faso at the start of the week. One fifth of the country’s total population needs help, including over half a million malnourished children. The situation has been made worse by the impact of the conflict in Mali. More than 60,000 people have fled the fighting and crossed the border into Burkina Faso – into areas which are already extremely vulnerable.

USG Amos travelled to a nutrition centre in Djibo and met with refugees at the Mentao refugee camp in northern Burkina Faso. Following the visit, Ms. Amos commented that she was pleased that local communities, who are sharing what little they have with the refugees, are also receiving assistance.

“The drought and rising food prices have taken their toll. Many families have had to sell their livestock to cover their household food needs or they are eating the seeds that they should plant for the next season,” said Ms. Amos at a press conference in Ouagadougou.

Next few weeks critical to tackling hunger in the region

Bringing much-needed relief to hungry people in the coming weeks until the onset of the rainy season in mid-June, which will make many areas difficult to access, will be vital. However, the humanitarian situation across the region is expected to remain critical at least until the main harvest this autumn.

Aid agencies are on the ground supporting governments in the region in providing food assistance to hungry people. Other priorities include health, water and sanitation but these efforts urgently need further support from the international community. Ms. Amos also emphasized the need to build up people’s ability to cope with future drought and other shocks and reduce dependence on emergency aid.

More>>  ERC Amos' statement to the press on Burkina Faso - OCHA Press release on Burkina Faso - ERC Amos' statement to the press on Senegal and the Sahel crisis [English - French] - OCHA Press release on Senegal and the Sahel crisis