24 May 2012 The United Nations top relief official today called for strong leadership and a comprehensive response plan, as well as donor support, for the food crisis in West Africa’s drought-prone Sahel region, warning that hunger could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe.
“To avoid the food crisis in the Sahel region becoming a catastrophe we need strong leadership, comprehensive response plan; coordinated and speedy action and continued generosity from the regional and international community,” the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, said at the end of a four-day visit to Burkina Faso and Senegal.
The two countries form part of Africa’s Sahel region, in which there are currently 15 million people facing food insecurity. The region stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, and also includes Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and the northern regions of Cameroon and Nigeria.
In Senegal, Ms. Amos, who is also the Emergency Relief Coordinator and head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), visited a food and seed distribution centre, as well as a community centre where mothers are learning how to recognize early signs of malnutrition and prepare enriched food for their children.
She also toured a health centre where severely malnourished children are being treated. The three locations are situated in the Diourbel region, one of the Senegalese areas most affected by the drought.
According to OCHA, of the millions facing food shortages and a nutrition crisis in the Sahel, it is estimated that 2.8 million people in Burkina Faso are affected – a fifth of the country’s population. In Senegal, more than 800,000 people do not have enough to eat this year.
“Many families have had to sell their livestock to cover their household food needs or they are eating the seeds that they should plant for the next season,” said Ms. Amos, who also emphasized the need to strengthen people’s ability to cope with future droughts and other shocks to reduce dependence on emergency relief.
OCHA said the humanitarian situation is expected to remain critical at least until the main harvest towards the end of this year in Senegal and elsewhere in the region. Other priorities for those in need of assistance include health care and water and sanitation services.
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