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U.N. seeks $2 billion to tackle hunger in the Sahel

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Mon, 3 Feb 2014 12:22 GMT
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A girl stands outside a hut in Niger's capital Niamey June 10, 2012. 2012. REUTERS/Richard Valdmanis
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The United Nations appealed on Monday for $2 billion to feed and care for a record 20 million people across Africa's Sahel belt, urging donors to tackle a deteriorating humanitarian situation in a region where food insecurity has almost doubled in a year.

Conflict in Mali, Nigeria, Sudan and Central African Republic has disrupted markets and aggravated food shortages across the Sahel which suffers regular droughts and cyclical floods as well as locust infestations and epidemics.

Over 1.6 million people have abandoned their homes and half of those have sought refuge in impoverished countries throughout the savannah region that are already struggling to look after their own populations, said the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). 

“This year is make or break for the Sahel. Donors have to show more ambition than in previous years to fund the Sahel. We have to work fast because if we don’t, the cycle of drought that is reality for the Sahel will catch up with us. It’s a race against time,” Robert Piper, the U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Food insecurity – a measure of hunger within a population due to conflict or climate – surged across the Sahel during 2013. But funding for this new appeal may fall short because of the slow global economic recovery and competing demands on donor resources.

International donors have already been asked to respond to multiple crises in Africa as well as a $6.5 billion appeal for Syria, the largest in U.N. history. Last year, donors met just 63 percent of the $1.7 billion Sahel U.N. appeal.

According to the French newspaper Le Monde, the European Union's humanitarian arm (ECHO) spent 300 million euros above its 1 billion euro budget in 2013, in an attempt to respond to several humanitarian crises. The newspaper said ECHO was struggling to fund its aid partners on the ground.

“We don’t have the luxury of planning emergencies. We had a temporary cash flow problem, but this has now been resolved,” David Sharrock, ECHO spokesman told Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that though last year was exceptional, this may quickly become the norm.

NEW STRATEGY

OCHA has broken from its one-year planning cycle for the Sahel to a new three-year strategy in an attempt to ensure donor resources are spent on humanitarian action that has a longer lasting impact.

“It’s a shift in recognising that our responsibility as humanitarians goes beyond saving lives today. People can legitimately ask us what are you doing about next year’s food shortages, and that wasn’t the case before,” said Piper.   

“It's the year we see if we can translate theory into practice and start bringing aid workers together to work with national governments and reverse these trends that have been deteriorating year after year,” said Piper.

He said that three of the nine Sahel countries that stretch west to east across Africa represented 40 percent of the food insecurity in the region and each presented different challenges. 

Nigeria has high rates of malnutrition and the risk of widespread hunger in the northeast where an Islamist insurgency and a crackdown by the military has exacerbated hunger and makes it harder to address.

In Senegal and Cameroon, there are similar food shortages as a result of poor rainfall and floods. The countries are at peace but the government rates confronting food insecurity as a low priority, Piper said.

The Sahel region has seen a marginal increase in its harvest compared to a five-year average but any positive effect has been partly offset by population growth.

Fertility rates in the region range from 4.3 children per mother in Cameroon to seven in Niger. In all, there is 13 percent less food to go round due to population growth, OCHA said.  

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