News / Africa

UNICEF: Urgent Funds Needed to Help Sahel Food Crisis

An man carries his malnourished child through the corridors inside Banadir hospital in Somalia's capital Mogadishu. (File Photo)
An man carries his malnourished child through the corridors inside Banadir hospital in Somalia's capital Mogadishu. (File Photo)
Jane Labous

The food crisis in the Sahel is deepening, but thanks to early warnings, national and international governments and agencies are already reacting with emergency food supplies.  The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is calling for more than $67 million to address the needs of over one million children who will suffer from acute malnutrition in 2012.

Death, not famine, makes the headlines, says UNICEF's Martin Dawes, when asked about food insecurity in the Sahel.

People wait at the food distribution center set up by the World Food Program in Gumuruk, 40 kilometers from Pibor, South Sudan, January 17, 2012.
People wait at the food distribution center set up by the World Food Program in Gumuruk, 40 kilometers from Pibor, South Sudan, January 17, 2012.

The charity is calling for nearly $70 million to address the burgeoning crisis occurring in the Sahel territories of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, and the northern regions of Cameroon, Nigeria and Senegal - some of the driest places in the world.

Devastating floods in 2010 that left wells collapsed and crops wrecked, followed by a terrible harvest in 2011and rising food prices across West Africa, have meant hundreds of villages are left with dwindling food supplies.


UNICEF's Martin Dawes says that over one million children across the Sahel are currently malnourished.

“It’s already a crisis because we have looked at the figures and across the Sahel belt there’s [sic] more than a million children under five who are going to need medical treatment for severe and acute malnutrition," he said. "And this doesn’t also take into account the 1.6 million who will be what we call moderately to acute malnourished. It’s a bad year, there’s been a dip in the production of food, and prices have gone higher. And this is enough to put an awful lot of children from the crisis they face every day where effectively their bodies are being injured, into a deeper crisis where effectively their lives will have to be saved.”

Poor harvest

A mother with her child seeking food aid in Mogadishu last month. The United Nations has now declared the end of the famine in Somalia, February 3, 2012
A mother with her child seeking food aid in Mogadishu last month. The United Nations has now declared the end of the famine in Somalia, February 3, 2012

In the Sahel regions of northern Senegal, arid fields lie bare and cracked with heat, apart from the occasional crop of hardy onions or cabbages, the only vegetables that will grow.

Villagers told VOA that there is nothing left - the remains of the harvest is either eaten, sold, or rotten.

In the village of Ndoye Diagne, people say they are being forced to sell animals and take loans from local merchants to buy small amounts of rice, oil and sugar.

Villager Jare Fall, 30, has five children. She dredges the remaining water from a well and waters a small crop of onions.

She says there aren't many onions this year and does not have enough food to feed her family. She says she needs another well so she can enlarge her patch of land and grow more food otherwise she will have to borrow.

Famine vs. death

But Dawes says the crisis in the Sahel was signaled early by surveys, and while the situation is not making huge headlines,  governments and charities are already in emergency mode.

“The sad fact is that many people really say that it isn’t a headline when it’s a famine but it’s a headline when there’s [sic] deaths," he said. "That’s not our job. Our job is to warn, to prevent and to try and ensure that the worst consequences of food insecurity does not happen, that communities are strengthened and most critically of all as far as we are concerned, that the indicators of a bad food crisis, which are children, do not die in droves.”

Emergency measures

UNICEF: Urgent Funds Needed to Help Sahel Food Crisis
UNICEF: Urgent Funds Needed to Help Sahel Food Crisis

Huge quantities of emergency feeds are being bought, such as Plumpy Nut - a peanut-based paste which is a new “miracle” tool to beat famine.

The charity is also building up its emergency response teams and liaising closely with governments.

In northern Senegal, the Red Cross is working to help villages, assessing the needs of individual villagers and providing hygiene and sanitation facilities to help combat other illnesses which come alongside malnutrition.

But both agencies agree that more funds are needed to tackle the crisis in the short term and long term. 

“Basically what will save lives in this crisis is when affected children get the right treatment given by a professional in the right place and there is access to those places so that supplies can continue," added Dawes. "It’s cheaper for us to do it now than it would be to fly it all in in the peak of a really intense emergency.”

Malnutrition has long-term effects including irreversible cognitive effects on development and stunting.

UNICEF says 35% of deaths of children under five have malnutrition as their root cause.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs