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A Million Children At Risk of Deadly Malnutrition in the Sahel

A looming food crisis threatens a million children as shortages, price spikes, and drought affect thousands across the Sahel
ACF-Mauritania, François Lenoir
A mother and her child face foot shortages in Mauritania. ACF-Mauritania, François Lenoir

More than 10 million people are at risk of food shortages across Africa’s Sahel region, including communities in MauritaniaMali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, South Sudan, and Ethiopia. With Early Warning Systems on high alert, poor harvests across the region have contributed to food shortages and skyrocketing prices—cereal prices alone are 60 to 85 percent higher than their five year average—that threaten millions with hunger and malnutrition as tens of thousands of families exhaust their food reserves

“Although the 2011 harvest hasn’t been catastrophic, after the 2005 drought there haven’t been two consecutive years of good harvests. Many vulnerable households are still extremely weak… and unable to cope with the slightest shock.”

—Patricia Hoorelbeke, Action Against Hunger’s West Africa Regional Office

The Hunger Season

This year’s hunger gap—that period of seasonal scarcity between harvests—will likely begin as early as March across the Sahel instead of in July, ensuring six months before the next harvest is available in October. Thousands of families were already struggling as the region experienced a series of setbacks over the past five years—drought, erratic rainfall, debilitating market fluctuations—and the cumulative impact of scarcity and sharply rising food prices impose additional hardships on already-vulnerable communities. Acute malnutrition rates have already exceeded emergency levels in many areas of Chad and Mauritania, and thousands of young children and pregnant and breastfeeding women are in need of immediate, lifesaving support.

“This [crisis] is not only due to a lack of rain, pasture and crops. In the absence of storage facilities and loans, many farmers have no choice but to sell their crops the moment they are ready, only to buy food on local markets months later, at prices four times as high. In addition, thousands of impoverished households in the Sahel were previously dependent on family members working in Libya and Ivory Coast sending money home. Political instability has forced 200,000 workers to return to their home countries, resulting in lower remittances.”
 
—Vincent Taillandier, Desk Officer, Action Against Hunger

Lifesaving Action

We’re racing to scale up our emergency response across the region, strengthening ACF’s cash-based interventions to help families purchase food in local markets, cash-for-work programs that provide families with needed income between harvests, and emergency food distributions for vulnerable families with severely malnourished children. But much more is needed beyond the emergency response to help these communities recover self-sufficiency and to ensure their resilience in the near future.

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What is the international community’s responsibility when vulnerable populations are made even more insecure? How best can we save lives today while helping families weather future hardships?
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