Food crisis in the Sahel

Time may be running out for millions of ‘food insecure’ people in Africa’s Sahel region…


Turban seller near Timbuktu, Mali, 2012 © Alfred Weidinger


Whilst the threat of war in Sudan is making headlines worldwide at the moment, it is important to remember the other major crisis that has seen little coverage in the mainstream media: The food crisis in West Africa’s Sahel region.

Ten million people are labelled by the United Nations as ‘food insecure’. That includes two million children suffering from moderate malnutrition and one million children suffering from severe malnutrition.  51% of the Sahel’s population officially live in poverty.

Though the famine is quite obviously major, it is still not a full-blown disaster in the eyes of many apparently, and so – with some exceptions – it has received little coverage in the mainstream press.

In the UK the situation is not good from the charitable sector’s point of view. A alliance of different aid organisations – Action Against Hunger, Oxfam, Save the Children and World Vision – have together set a target of raising $250m to provide emergency assistance across the region. However, so far they have only raised $52m between them.

The charities say that if the shortfall remains unaddressed, more than 2 million people will be denied life-saving assistance. They warned that if there continues to be a lack of funding they may have to cut back on their operations in a region that badly needs assistance.

One of the problems is that the poorest areas are the least helped at the moment. Over $200 billion is needed in Niger at the moment for food. So far, only 30% of that total has been delivered according to the United Nations’ financial tracking service. In Mauritania, only 47% of funds that are needed have been given.

Naturally, the violence in the region is making hard for Aid agencies to reach affected areas. The fact that there are escalating hostilities in Mali does not help. Recently, the Tuareg Azawad National Liberation Movement took the second city, Timbuktu. Additionally, the presence of armed groups in Mauretania, Niger and Nigeria have also affected the accessibility of aid.

Ian Bray, a spokesman for Oxfam, vocalised the problem – that there simply hasn’t been the exposure in the press:

High-profile emergencies like the tsunami in Asia and the floods in Pakistan got substantial media coverage, and the public response reflected this,

The problem in this situation is that it’s a looming crisis that hasn’t yet developed into a full-blown humanitarian disaster…

Citing the recent East African food crisis he said

…The world never seems to act early enough on these warning signs, and that’s what we’re seeing.

Though, understandably, pessimistic, there’s a fragment of good news. As the eurozone crisis carries on, the European Union’s commissioner responsible for aid, Kristalina Georgieva, said that she made sure the food crisis was a priority at the recent World Bank conference in April. “…we are operating in a security environment that has worsened,” she said. Adding however that:

bolstering countries’ resilience to natural disasters, creating more safety nets for fragile states and ensuring food security are the top agenda items at the World Bank meetings.

Talking is all very well, but action appears distinctly lacking. After all, even in the UK where the international development budget has been protected, an act to set a minimum on the amount spent on aid has been shelved. Ultimately then, whether the international community lives up its promises is yet to be seen, but time may be running out.


James Jacobs left university wanting to become the next George Orwell, though frankly he’ll settle with being Janet Street Porter. His interests include International Development, Constitutional Affairs and the Arts. He keeps a blog: CultureArtNews, and you can find him on Twitter @jameswjacobs