History repeats itself: Food crisis in the Sahel

As we continue to follow the devastating famine in the Horn of Africa, we turn our attention to the west of the continent, where 15 million people in parts of the Sahel region are at risk of food insecurity. Still reeling from severe food shortages in 2010, drought-prone parts of Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Senegal, the Gambia and Mauritania require international attention as they attempt to stave off a deeper crisis.

Dry sorghum field in Burkina Faso. Sorghum is one of the main grains in the region. Farmers in the region have seen harvests fall by 14 percent in Burkina Faso and 46 percent in Mauritania. All photos credit Irina Fuhrmann/Oxfam.

The UN agencies, USAID and the European Commission report that a menacing mix of drought, declining production and environmental degradation has led to rising food prices — prices that are now so high that people cannot afford feed themselves. A coalition of UN agencies and six international humanitarian NGOs are calling for $1 billion to address the growing crisis, but Gaelle Bausson, a spokeswoman for the coalition, says that only 30 percent has been funded.

Aid agencies are already attempting to soften the blow. Check out what these organizations are doing in the region:

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies released more than 170,000 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund in order to distribute a month’s supply of rice, oil, salt and sugar to 8,200 people in Mali. The organization has also worked with the Malian Red Cross in Tafacirga and Fegui, two hard-hit communities, to educate people about malnutrition.

RECOMMENDED: Burkina Faso prepares for impending food crisis

-In Niger, the epicenter of the crisis, a network of nutrition treatment centers is working tirelessly to address signs and symptoms of child malnutrition. The country’s government and UNICEF agree that these programs are crucial, but they too lack funding. The UN estimates that $229 million is needed to meet the needs in that country alone.

-In partnership with the World Food Programme, the international aid agency CARE started a cash-for-work initiative to help families earn enough money to purchase food. They pay citizens to work on long-term infrastructure projects that will help prevent this kind of crisis in the future.

Oxfam International is gearing up to provide emergency food aid to nearly 300,000 people in the region, but their projects also include sustainable solutions like cooperative vegetable gardens, cash transfers, well rehabilitation, seed distribution and veterinary care.

The problem is a dangerous one, but early recognition allows us to take action now — before the situation becomes even worse. We urge you to explore the programs above to learn more about the crisis and what you can do to help. As always, stay tuned to the ONE Blog for further updates.