Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
25 July 2014, Rome - The United Nations today called on the international donor community to renew a commitment to fight hunger and food insecurity in the Sahel by protecting and strengthening the resilience of the poor and very poor families in the region.
Various factors, including the impacts of several ongoing conflicts and recurring droughts are exacerbating food insecurity in the region, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Assistant Secretary-General and Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel, Robert Piper, said in a joint statement.
In February, FAO appealed to donors for 116 million US dollars to assist more than 7.5 million vulnerable people in the Sahel. To date, only 16 million US dollars, or less than 14 percent, have been received.
"If we are going to break out of this cycle of chronic crises across the Sahel region, emergency assistance to vulnerable farmers and pastoralists has to be considered a top priority," Robert Piper said. "The best way to reduce tomorrow's emergency case-load is to help households protect their assets today," he added.
"Due to funding gaps, interventions that could prevent the food security situation from worsening are delayed and the capacities of vulnerable communities to cope with repeated shocks are deteriorating," said Bukar Tijani, Assistant Director-General, FAO Regional Office for Africa.
This year, as part of a commitment to zero hunger in the Sahel region, the UN and humanitarian partners launched an ambitious three-year Regional Strategic Response Plan for the Sahel to support resilience over the longer-term by tackling the root causes of hunger.
The plan also includes the rapid scaling-up of measures to meet the immediate food security and nutritional needs of those at-risk. Over the years, despite efforts by governments and partners to fight hunger in the Sahel, the situation remains of major concern.
In February 2014 already more than 20 million people were suffering from food insecurity. This situation is exacerbated by the current lean season and the resultant depletion of food stocks.
In addition, the rainy season has so far been patchy, with abundant rainfall in the West of the sub-region (except in Senegal), and below-average precipitation registered in parts of the East, notably Nigeria, Togo, Benin along the Gulf of Guinea, and in Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad. Below average rains have in particular, delayed planting activities in Senegal and Chad.
Chronic food insecurity in the Sahel is deteriorating further due to population displacement. Displaced people from the Central African Republic and Nigeria who have been seeking refuge in Cameroon, Niger and Chad, are requiring urgent assistance.
In many cases and in order to meet part of the refugees needs, host families are using their own food reserves and their limited resources. Refugees are fleeing with their cattle, putting additional pressure on natural resources and cultivated areas, thus increasing the risk of conflict between communities.
Recent clashes in Northern Mali have also generated new displacements of people to the South of Mali and neighbouring countries. While current FAO assistance is crucial to protect the livelihoods of the most vulnerable families, the current funding gap hampers efforts to assist herders, agropastoralists and farmers.
Poor and very poor rural households that have limited access to agriculture and that do not benefit from livelihood support will continue to depend on casual labor for revenues, on markets to access food, and to rely on damaging coping strategies, such as selling assets, reducing the number of meals, or taking children out of school.
FAO has already provided time-critical assistance to help more than 1.2 million vulnerable rural families prepare for the current agricultural campaign.
FAO is also assisting vulnerable pastoralists through the recapitalization of herds, the distribution of veterinary products, water point rehabilitation and trainings.
"More should be done to protect the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable communities in a region that is so frequently affected by various shocks," said Bukar Tijani.
"With timely donor support, FAO still can prevent further degradation of livelihoods and missed planting opportunities for many vulnerable communities, while at the same time strengthening their resilience with longer-term interventions."
In the western Chad region of Kanem, recent FAO efforts have led to significant results in terms of resilience through a wide approach associating greater access of women to irrigated land, good agricultural practices, goat-rearing, nutrition training, income-generating activities and drip irrigation.
Thanks to additional agriculture income and trainings, over half of the beneficiaries adopted more varied and balanced diets, and a dramatic decrease in child malnutrition was observed, dropping to 12.6 percent in beneficiary households, compared to 31 among non-beneficiaries.
FAO's funding appeal for 116 million US dollars for the Sahel is a part of a wider 2.2 billion US dollars funding appeal by the humanitarian teams across the region, which is today financed at only 29 percent.FAO works in close partnership with ECOWAS and CILSS on a number of programmes in the framework of the multi- stakeholder AGIR initiative.