DAKAR (AlertNet) — Heads of United Nations (U.N.) agencies and donor organisations have called for a rapid and robust response to rising levels of hunger and malnutrition in West Africa’s Sahel region where drought and insect infestation led to poor harvests, according to a joint statement released on Wednesday after a meeting.
The U.N. says between 8 and 11 million people across the semi-arid region that runs south of the Sahara desert, including parts of Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Chad, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Cameroon and Senegal, need food and nutrition assistance.
Participants at the meeting, which was attended by government representatives from the countries hit by food shortages, urged the international community to scale up humanitarian assistance to avoid a dramatic hunger crisis.
“We are having an emergency meeting to avoid a full blown emergency,” Josette Sheeran, the head of the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said at a news conference after the meeting.
The U.N. says $725 million is required for food security and nutrition projects to respond to the hunger crisis.
Britain, Germany, Japan, Luxembourg, the United States and the European Union (EU) have already made contributions to U.N. agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which are currently rolling out programmes on the ground.
The European Commission has increased the funding it is allocating to the Sahel food crisis to 275 million euros ($360 million) of which 30 million euros ($39 million) is going to support the WFP to provide food assistance to 8 million people in Niger, Chad, Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Cameroon.
"In the Sahel, the early warning signals are loud and clear and we're doing everything we can now to reduce the impact of a failed harvest and prevent it from turning into another major food crisis," Kristalina Georgieva, the European commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, said in a statement on Wednesday.
The United States plans to give $33 million in assistance to the Sahel crisis next week in addition to $42 million already provided so far, Nancy Lindborg of U.S. Aid for International Development (USAID) said in Rome on Wednesday. The United States gave $197million in assistance to the Sahel region in 2011, she added.
The Sahel region is prone to droughts, and experts say the effects of climate change has meant an increasing frequency in the phenomenon, giving communities little time to recover from previous food crises.
The last food crisis occurred in 2009-2010 and it required an international intervention to save 10 million people who were facing starvation at the time.
The Rome conclave resolved to work together to meet immediate food security and nutritional needs of affected people, while supporting programmes that address the root causes of problems and help to strengthen resilience of communities living in areas that are affected by chronic drought.
This would include support to smallholder farmers to improve self-reliance and resilience in the face of difficult climatic and economic conditions.
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(Editing by Julie Mollins)