Despite annual nutrition support by humanitarian agencies across the Sahel, food shortages continue to blight many regions and surveys show malnutrition rates over 10% in almost all of the Sahelian countries. The UN’s Child Agency, UNICEF, reported having treated 345,000 acutely malnourished children earlier this year, but rates of undernourishment remain stubbornly high. In some parts of Chad, malnutrition among young children is regularly above the 15% threshold which is said to constitute an ‘emergency status’ by the World Health Organisation.
In January, the UN agencies and humanitarian partners appealed for 1.6 million dollars to help the millions of people affected by food insecurity and displacement across West Africa’s Sahel regions. Funding is needed to provide life-saving food aid and help for people to rebuild livelihoods in countries such as Burkina Faso, Chad, the Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Nigeria. This month the appeal has been revised upwards to 1.7 billion dollars.
According to the UN’s Regional Humanitarian Coordinator, “the Sahel is always in crisis mode”. In countries like Chad, many of the most vulnerable families who were affected by the drought in 2012 have simply not yet recovered from their losses of animals and seed supplies.
However, currently only 35% of the funding requested – around 600 million dollars – has been received, leaving a 1 billion dollar shortfall. Agriculture in particular has suffered from underfunding, with less than a quarter of the money needed coming forward. This means that agencies have been unable to supply farmers with seeds in time for the next rains. Speaking to the news agency IRIN, the UN’s Coordinator summed up the situation by saying, “We have missed a window of opportunity here to support agriculture and reduce the number of farmers in need of aid.”
Nevertheless, agencies still hope to provide assistance where possible, such as support with livestock vaccinations and animal fodder. They would also like to do more in other under-funded sectors such as water, health, education and early recovery. SOS Children’s Villages has launched its own Sahel Emergency Appeal to help those affected by famine and drought.
But the availability of funds will continue to be a limiting factor, particularly in areas such as early recovery. Despite much talk from international governments about the need to boost resilience in the harsh climatic environment of the Sahel and warnings from organisations such as Oxfam that more assistance is needed, it seems that poor families will be reliant on emergency food handouts for many more years to come.