Aid Agencies Warn on West Africa Food Crisis
19 March 2012 at 11:25 am
Countries across the Sahel region, Africa, are facing a serious food crisis. Adjitti Mahamat ,40, cooks the one big meal a day for as many as ten children. Photo: Andy Hall/ Oxfam.
Australian aid agencies are scaling up relief efforts in West Africa as the food crisis intensifies with some 15 million people in need of food assistance.
Prominent aid groups World Vision Australia, Oxfam Australia and Care Australia have warned that the crisis could lead to a full scale humanitarian emergency in the Sahel region of West and Central Africa if urgent action is not taken.
They say Mali, Chad, Mauritania and Senegal are among the worst affected countries in the region, with malnutrition rates at 10 and 15 per cent, while in some areas rates have risen beyond the emergency threshold level of 15 per cent.
World Vision says that approximately 1.3 million children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition, with 400,000 children suffering from the most severe form.
The aid agencies are calling on the international community to respond quickly to mitigate the worst effects of the crisis.
“No one wants to see a repeat of the famine which gripped East Africa last year and we know that by responding early we have a chance to save many thousands of lives and millions more from hunger and malnutrition,” World Vision Australia Chief Executive Tim Costello said.
According to Oxfam, a lethal mix of drought, high food prices, entrenched poverty and regional conflict is behind the crisis.
“Across the region, food prices are higher by on average 25 to 50 per cent compared with the last five years average. Prices could increase by another 25 to 30 per cent by the peak of the hunger season in July – August, putting the most vulnerable families at increased risk of malnutrition,” Oxfam said in a statement.
Care Australia says that in the worst affected areas, variable rains and pests such as locusts have destroyed entire food crops, leaving families with little or nothing to eat, while World Vision says that many people are now surviving on wild leaves and animal feed.
Oxfam regional director for West Africa, Mamadou Biteye, said that millions of people are on the threshold of a major crisis.
“All signs point to a drought becoming a catastrophe if nothing is done soon. The world cannot allow this to happen. A concerted aid effort is needed to stop tens of thousands dying due to international complacency,” Biteye said.
“We witnessed last year the situation spiralling out of control in East Africa as the aid community failed to act swiftly. The worst can be avoided and thousands of lives will be saved if we act now. It’s that simple.”
The United Nations has estimated that $724 million is needed to address current needs – an amount Oxfam says could rise as the crisis progresses.
“No one wants to see a repeat of the famine which gripped East Africa last year and we know that by responding early we have a chance to save many thousands of lives and millions more from hunger and malnutrition,” Costello said.