Africa’s Sahel region, which stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea – and includes Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, among others – has been regularly afflicted by food insecurity, stemming from the region’s propensity to suffer from drought. Before the current drought, it experienced droughts in 2005 and 2010.
UN humanitarian agencies estimate that there are currently some 18 million people facing food insecurity in the region, due to a combination of drought and sporadic rains, poor harvest, rising food prices and displacement, as well as insecurity due to political instability in some areas.
In particular, Mali’s humanitarian situation is compounded by its current political uncertainty in the wake of a coup earlier this year and insecurity in the north, where the Government has lost control to armed militias and terrorist groups. This has led to a massive displacement of Malians, both within and outside of their country, with some 320,000 having sought refuge so far.
In addition to the drought and volatile food prices, parts of the Sahel – namely, Mali and Niger’s croplands – are also under increasing threat from desert locust. The insect swarms can be dense and highly mobile. A very small part of an average swarm – or about one tonne of locusts – eats the same amount of food in one day as about 10 elephants or 25 camels or 2,500 people.
Adding to the region’s problems, since mid-June, the number of people affected by cholera has shot up in the Sahel. UNICEF has warned that a recent upsurge – which has already killed more than 60 people and sickened about 2,800 this year – is putting more and more people, especially malnourished children, at risk.
The United Nations and its humanitarian partners is seeking $1.6 billion in aid to help the Sahel region. So far, around half of that amount has been mobilized, and the funds have been used to obtain food, as well as deal with the refugee crisis around Mali.
“We have the possibility – if the funding continues – we have the possibility of seeing this crisis through without major catastrophe. We can have a success here in the Sahel. There are always challenges, there are always concerns – it’s going to take hard work. The food is flowing, but it’s still subject to continued funding,” the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for Sahel, David Gressly, said recently.
The funds raised from the appeal will not only go towards immediate humanitarian needs – they will also be used to help build the resilience of households so that they can absorb the shock of future droughts, in the process helping to avoid major requirements for significant funding and massive relief efforts. According to OCHA, there needs to be sustained donor funding that allows this kind of work to continue between crises.
The UN system has been actively engaged on the Sahel. In addition to high-level missions to the region by top officials, the heads of a wide range of UN and government agencies (pictured here) recently gathered at the World Food Programme's headquarters in Rome to discuss the humanitarian response to the crisis in the region.