The Sahel: UN agencies call for urgent scale-up of aid

15 Feb 2012

November 2011: Mothers waiting to have their children assessed and weighed at the Bargadja theraputic feeding center in Niger's Maradai Region. Credit: WFP/Phil Behan
Drought and food shortages are threatening millions of people with hunger and malnutrition in West Africa’s Sahel region

Heads of UN agencies, representatives from affected governments and major donors today called for an urgent scale up of humanitarian aid to help millions of people affected by hunger and malnutrition in the Sahel region of West Africa.

In a joint statement issued at an emergency meeting at the World Food Programme (WFP) headquarters in Rome, heads of UN agencies, the European Commission and USAID said “the time for humanitarian action in the Sahel is now.”

A combination of drought, poverty, high grain prices, environmental degradation and chronic under-development is affecting Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Chad, northern Cameroon and Nigeria. More than 10 million people are struggling to get enough to eat, including 5.4 million in Niger.

"High-levels of food and nutrition insecurity are now threatening to reverse the fragile development gains in some countries," stressed Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos at the meeting. "These crises have a human face - about 1 million children under five are at risk of severe acute malnutrition."

Leaders attending the meeting called for a comprehensive and rapid response to the crisis. They also said they would support programmes to address the root causes of the crisis, and to strengthen the resilience of communities in drought-prone areas.

WFP plans to reach more than 8 million people across the Sahel in the coming months with 570,000 metric tons of food aid. In Niger, it has supported more than half a million people through food-for-work and cash-for-work initiatives since November 2011.

The statement also called for “a quick and effective response” to help tens of thousands of people displaced by fighting in Mali, many of whom have sought refuge in neighbouring countries like Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) will be airlifting tents and relocating these refugees to safer locations away from the borders.

Aid agencies are asking for more than US$720 million to support national efforts to respond to the crisis. So far, donors have provided $135 million, and relief activities have already begun.

"I thank donors, including ECHO, for their early contributions," said Ms. Amos. "However, we need more resources now. To prevent a large-scale crisis, we need to act now.”

More >> Joint Statement  -  ERC Key Messages on the Sahel Crisis  -  Map on conflict and displacement in Mali