11 June 2013
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by United Nations Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for Sahel


Pointing out that more than 11.4 million people were facing a daily food and nutrition crisis throughout West Africa’s Sahel region, the newly appointed United Nations Regional Coordinator for that area said that his priority was to close the financial gap that has left nearly two thirds of this year’s $1.7 billion Sahel appeal unfunded.


Robert Piper told correspondents at a press conference at Headquarters today that, even as people were still reeling from last year’s food crisis, the financial resources received so far against this year’s appeal totalled $609 million, or 36 per cent of the $1.7 billion appeal.  Five million children under five years of age, even more young children than last year, were facing the risk of moderate or severe malnutrition, he added.


At the same time, he noted that the number of internally displaced people and refugees was increasing throughout the region, even outside Mali, whose people were grappling with the double crisis of conflict and drought.  Food security and malnutrition in Mali’s northern areas had reached emergency levels.  Approximately 450,000 Malians had been displaced by the conflict, with 175,000 heading into neighbouring countries.


Mr. Piper also said that another priority of his was to ensure the appeal’s financial resources were well distributed to meet specific needs.  Many incoming financial resources had been earmarked for particular areas, such as food assistance and nutrition, or even for a specific United Nations agency or programme.  Yet, far fewer resources had been earmarked for agriculture and education, essential building blocks to help reduce the Sahel’s vulnerability to any crisis.  During the first five months of this year, for example, only about 100,000 farmers, compared to nearly the 6 million farmers targeted, had received the seeds they needed for planting before the May season.


Even with the improved harvests that had resulted from better rains during the wet season of 2012, he said that the Sahel region’s people were dealing with very high cereal prices.  In some areas, cereal prices were up 50 per cent, compared to the average price of cereal over the last five years.  Floods in northern Nigeria, which produced about half of the region’s cereals, and the man-made insecurity in Nigeria and Mali, had restricted market activity and trading, thus contributing to the higher food prices.


He also underscored that those people were more vulnerable and sensitive to upward ticks in food prices as they typically spent two thirds of their income on food.  A 50 per cent increase in food prices meant they were “in deep trouble”.  Further, as the food crises became more frequent, families increasingly made decisions with long-term negative implications.  For example, they would remove a daughter from school, eat their livestock usually kept to reproduce and earn income, or eat the seeds intended for planting.


Responding to a question on why the amount of actual monies coming into the appeal remained low, Mr. Piper said the large-scale humanitarian needs stemming from the conflicts in Syria and Mali were placing enormous demands on donors.  Donors also had difficulty understanding the factors behind the need for a 2013 appeal, following the 2012 $1.6 billion appeal, especially after the improved rains of 2012.


In response to questions regarding the development of a comprehensive, longer-term strategy for the region, Mr. Piper said the United Nations was dedicated to developing a food strategy that boosted countries’ resilience and improved all their economic indicators.  He also noted the role played by regional groups, such as the Economic Community of West African States, and the natural resources harboured by many of the region’s countries.


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For information media • not an official record