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Urgent, early response needed for food crisis in Africa’s Sahel region

Urgent, early response needed for food crisis in Africa’s Sahel region

June 1, 2012
That crisis is now real. More than 15 million people are vulnerable to hunger in seven countries: Niger, Mauritania, Mali, Chad, The Gambia, Senegal, and Burkina Faso.
 
Food stocks have already run out for some communities, and are running dangerously low for others.
 
Support to protect lives and livelihoods is urgently needed before the crisis becomes a large-scale humanitarian disaster. It is not too late.
 
Oxfam and local partner organizations from the Sahel called Thursday for urgent action on five fronts to avert a repeat of the catastrophic food crisis in the Horn of Africa last year.
 
Those five fronts are commitment and disbursement of aid funds; targeting the most vulnerable people, including those affected by conflict; keeping regional markets open and prices down; strengthening leadership and coordination; and investment in the long term to break the hunger cycle.
 
“We learned then that the biggest risk is to wait,” said Robert Fox, executive director of Oxfam Canada.  “Acting earlier saves lives, prevents misery and costs far less in international aid.”
 
Fox spoke at a news briefing with Oxfam partner representatives Mamadou Goïta, executive secretary of the West African Peasants’ and Farmers’ Network in Mali; Mahamadou Issoufou, executive secretary of the Federation of Peasant Group Unions of Niger; Eric Hazard, Senegal-based Oxfam International GROW campaign coordinator for the Sahel region; and Lina Holguin, Oxfam Quebec policy director. 
 
The response so far to growing hunger in the Sahel has in some important ways been more positive than in previous crises in the region: early warning systems functioned relatively well; governments in the region raised the alarm quickly and some intervened to support local markets; and some donors quickly mobilized funds.
 
ONLY HALF OF NEEDED FUNDS RAISED
Canada was one of the countries that acted early and generously, pledging $41 million in February to help pre-position food supplies, provide veterinary services and fodder, and strengthen local organizations on the ground.
 
However, there remain huge gaps to fill and areas to strengthen quickly if the humanitarian response is to be effective.
 
“We urge the Canadian government to use its influence to persuade other governments to meet the UN’s call as early as possible and to increase agricultural development and community resilience programs aimed at breaking the hunger cycle,” said Goita, of the West African Peasants’ and Farmers’ Network.
 
“Canada could play a lead role in encouraging a high-level pledging conference we believe should be organized before the end of April to help mobilize funds, that target small farmers and farmers organizations, with each country expected to pay its fair share of outstanding needs” said Issoufou, executive secretary of the Federation of Peasant Group Unions of Niger.
Oxfam and partner organizations call on donors, governments in the region, regional bodies, NGOs and UN agencies to:
  • Close the funding gap now, to ensure programs are in place before the crisis hits its peak in the months ahead. Less than half of the $724.5 million the United Nations said was needed in January has been committed as of April 5. The need is likely to increase towards $1bn in coming weeks.
  • Disbursing the funds as early as possible is as important as the amount itself. April is a critical month to disburse funds and get programs going in time to be effective.
  • Ensure the right assistance targets the most vulnerable people, including those affected by conflict.
In order to help prevent women left behind from selling assets and to protect children from these shocks and from malnutrition, it is crucial to specifically target women.
 
Supporting pastoralist communities to keep animal herds alive will be many times less expensive than replacing them, and given that pastoralists are affected earlier than other groups, early action is particularly important.
 
ACCESS TO AID MUST BE ENSURED
More than 220,000 people have been displaced from their homes due to conflict in Mali since late January. The United Nations needs to negotiate access to humanitarian aid programs suspended due to insecurity in some areas. 
 
“Canada should find ways to support humanitarian assistance in Mali, and ensure the UN plays its role in ensuring humanitarian access in the north and the east,” Goita said.
  • Keep regional markets open to keep food flowing and prices down. Borders must be left often; access to humanitarian supplies is extremely important.
  • Strengthen leadership and coordination to ensure an effective response. The development of promised national, regional and community-based food reserves is crucial.
  • Invest in the long term to build resilience and break the hunger cycle.
 
For further information contact:
Juliet O'Neill
Oxfam Canada
Media Relations
1.613.240.3047 cell
1.613.237.5236 x 2215 office
 
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