Drought again haunts Sahel

2012-01-22 20:57
Dakar - For the third time in the past decade, drought has returned to the arid, western shoulder of Africa, bringing hunger to millions. Aid agencies are warning that if action is not taken now, the region known as the Sahel could slip into crisis.

More than 1 million children in the eight affected countries are expected to face life-threatening malnutrition this year, according to the United Nations Children's Fund.

The region has not yet recovered from the last drought two years ago, and many families lost their herds, which means that they will not have assets to purchase food.

Aid workers also worry that donors are suffering from "famine fatigue," as the looming West African crisis comes just six months after Somalia's capital was declared a famine zone.

"I think there is a real risk that people may think this is the kind of thing that just happens every few years," Stephen Cockburn, the West Africa regional campaign manager for Oxfam, said of the droughts in the Sahel.

Earlier this week, aid agencies revealed that thousands of people died needlessly in the Horn of Africa because donors waited until people started dying to respond. The warning signs were there as early as August 2010 but aid wasn't ramped up until July 2011.

Signs of the looming famine in the Sahel were first detected late last year, according to the report released Wednesday by Oxfam and Save the Children. The lessons of Somalia and the Horn of Africa, where as many as 100 000 people died, are front and centre in how aid agencies are responding to the potential famine in West Africa.

"Everyone recognizes in looking back that there was a delay in responding [in the Horn of Africa]. Tens of thousands of people died because of that delay... We know from this recent and painful experience what the risks are," said Cockburn.

He said that there could be more hope for the Sahel, since the indications of a crisis have been detected early on.

Increasingly frequent

"The alarms [for the Sahel] were already sounding in November and December. Every country in the region, and every president in the region, has recognized this and asked for outside help," he said.

The UN children's agency was among the agencies reacting early. The organization issued an appeal in December and began ordering therapeutic foods for infants and toddlers. By then, Niger had already issued its own alert saying that more than half the country's villages were vulnerable to food insecurity.

Droughts in the Sahel - a region spanning eight countries, including northern Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, northern Nigeria, Cameroon and southern Chad - have become increasingly frequent with emergencies declared in 2005, 2008 and 2010.

The consequences are especially dire for children, said Unicef spokesperson Martin Dawes.

"In this crisis adults will suffer, but children will die. Why? Because nutrition deterioration is a vicious cycle - in growing, the body requires more to replace and make up what it lacks and when the right kinds of food are not available the situation gets worse," said Dawes.

"They go from moderately malnourished to acute, and lifesaving intervention is needed."

As the child gets weaker, he or she becomes more vulnerable to routine problems, like diarrhoea. The child is less able to fend off diseases, and the effects are more pronounced, Dawes said.

Even during a non-drought year, as many as 300 000 children die of malnutrition in the Sahel, says Cockburn. It's a region that is perpetually on the edge, and any extra shock sends it over the precipice.

Savings exhausted

"The increasing frequency of droughts in the Sahel means that communities have had little time to recover from the last food crisis," according to Malek Triki, the Dakar-based spokesperson for the U N World Food Programme.

"Their savings are exhausted and livestock herds have not been rebuilt."

The United Nations is already purchasing food and deploying specialized teams to the region. Grain prices across the region are rising and WFP has observed a rush on maize by wholesalers, who are buying up local stocks.

Markets are emptying and staples including millet and sorghum are now in short supply.

Traders from the Sahel are travelling increasingly greater distances to buy maize, with some spotted as far as northern Ivory Coast, according to the WFP.

Cockburn said that the hard-learned lessons of Somalia are already bearing fruit. He is cautiously optimistic by the response from the European Union, which announced this week that it is doubling its humanitarian aid for the Sahel.

Kristalina Georgieva, the European commissioner for humanitarian aid visited Niger on Wednesday in order to see the problem up close.

"Within months people will begin to starve unless we act," she said, according to a statement posted on the European Union's website. "The alarm bells are ringing."

- SAPA
Read more on:    oxfam  |  niger  |  mali  |  west africa
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
SPONSORED CONTENT
When is a mountain more than just a mountain? 2014-12-18 07:26

When it’s an adventure! A group of Old Mutual employees found out how much is enough courage, endurance and camaraderie to take on Africa's highest peak.

/News
 

This is what South Africans Googled in 2014!

Find out who and what South Africans were most curious about in 2014!

 
 

I love summer.24

This hilarious song is your new holiday anthem
The world's least visited destination is breathtaking!
LOL treadmill fail!
Google’s top searches of 2014

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

2DAYS ONLY – 30% off Appliances

Coffee makers, blenders, fans, juicers and more. T&Cs apply. Shop now!

2 DAYS ONLY – 40% off books

Get 40% off when you buy 2 books. For two days only! T&Cs apply. Buy now!

Up to 50% off on outdoor gear

Save on chairs, blankets, cooler bags, umbrellas and more. Shop now!

Save on Samsung

Cameras, mobile phones, TVs, Tablets and more. While stocks last. Shop now!

Grand Theft Auto 5

Now available on PS4, Xbox One and PC from R649. Buy now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

You may be emotionally defensive or reserved today. You need to step up today as there may be extra responsibilities to deal with....read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.