An urgent humanitarian crisis has gripped the Sahel, where more than 18 million people are currently at risk of food insecurity and hunger. Poor rains last year and a resulting drought has plunged a huge swatch of land in the Sahel into crisis. This area covers parts of 10 countries in Central and West Africa, including Chad, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Gambia, Cameroon and northern Nigeria. High fuel and food costs, pest infestations, and conflict in Mali have further strained the region. The UN has issued an urgent appeal to provide emergency assistance to millions of people in the region, with a special focus on young children vulnerable to malnutrition.
What is especially devastating about the Sahel crisis is that this has happened before. Again and again. In fact, this is the third time in less than a decade that a drought has propelled the region into crisis. And the second time in just two years. Many of the same people affected by the current crisis are still recovering from the last one. Drought, hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition have become routine.
It is long past time that the world acted decisively to break the cycle of crisis. A growing chorus of voices have called for smart, long-term solutions to the core challenges. A key component of this response is smart, long-term investments in agriculture, food security and nutrition – exactly the development investments that ONE has called for in our Thrive campaign.
Fortunately, 6 crisis-affected countries in the Sahel — Burkina Faso, Gambia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal – have already developed agriculture and food security investment plans. Plans that have been costed, vetted by domestic stakeholders, and internationally endorsed. And not just in the Sahel: in total, 30 countries have laid these plans. Putting all of them into practice could lift 50 million people out of poverty and enable those countries not just to survive, but to thrive.
With the crisis looming large in the Sahel, donors should waste no time in fully funding these country plans. 13 donor countries have promised to sustain investments in agriculture, food security and nutrition. They must live up to those promises now – in the Sahel, where crisis is underway, and across the 24 countries that stand ready with vetted and endorsed plans.
Investing for the long-term makes economic sense. By fully funding the country investment plans of the 6 crisis- affected countries in the Sahel, for instance, nearly 10 million people could be lifted out of poverty. The United Nations has estimated that dealing with the 2012 Sahel hunger crisis alone will cost $1.6 billion – and there have been three hunger crises in the region in the last ten years.
Of course, as we make these long-term investments, it is also vital that immediate humanitarian needs are met. So the UN appeal for the region should be fully funded, and the small parts of the appeal that specifically help build resilience to future crises and provide safety nets must not be deprioritised, as they are now. Investing in lasting solutions will lead to lasting change.
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