Time to end Sahel hunger

3 July 2012 More aid is needed to avert a famine in the Sahel region of West Africa, says Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand Director Julianne Hickey. Eighteen million people across…

3 July 2012

Time to end Sahel hunger Archdiocese of WellingtonMore aid is needed to avert a famine in the Sahel region of West Africa, says Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand Director Julianne Hickey. Eighteen million people across almost a dozen countries face hunger and malnutrition.

Erratic weather led to poor harvests in 2011, which in turn pushed up food prices this year, massively aggravating a bad food situation in a region where half the rural population constantly live on the edge of crisis.

Conflict and tension in nations such as Mali and Nigeria have pushed people across borders, or displaced them internally

Migrants returning home means extra pressure on resources, as well as loss of income from the remittances they were sending back from earnings in other countries. All these factors have made people already living on the edge even more vulnerable.

‘All the food reserves have gone, the cost of food has gone through the roof and people have limited opportunity to earn money. Continued, strong intervention is needed to provide help through the lean season until the next harvest in October,’ says Caritas Humanitarian Programmes officer Mark Mitchell.

‘The people of the Sahel live on the edge of the desert,’ says Mr Mitchell, who has worked in other crisis zones. ‘They’re used to droughts and food shortages, and usually make it through. But with the climate changing, the droughts have become more frequent. People no longer have the capacity to just keep going. They can’t buy the next meal, so they are forced to sell their goats, for example.

‘And once you’ve sold your goat, you’ve got nothing else, and when you’ve got a whole community in this situation, you can’t just go to your neighbour because your neighbour’s in the same situation as yourself.’

So Caritas is providing food to get them through: grain through cereal banks at subsidised prices, nutrition centres for malnourished children and food distributions to those most in need.

‘We’re working through Caritas partners on the ground such as CADEV (Caritas Niger) and Catholic Relief Services,’ says Mr Mitchell. Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand has committed $75,000 to an international effort, and is appealing for more as it focuses its work on landlocked Niger where 5.5 million face hunger.
Caritas is also looking to the future. In the area most at risk in southwestern Niger, seed for planting is being distributed to 14,000 households across 110 villages.

Local people are also being paid in cash or food to work on projects to sustain their communities in the longer term, such as using small trenches on crop fields to keep water from draining away when it rains.

‘We’ve learned from what’s happened before – here, and in the Horn of Africa last year. Working with the communities affected, we know what to do, we know how to help; we just need more resources. And the need is great,’ says Mr Mitchell.

‘We are on the verge of a much deeper crisis that could end up in full-scale famine,’ says Mrs Hickey, ‘but there is hope. Being on the edge of a desert doesn’t mean people have to live constantly on the edge of hunger. They have provided for themselves in the past and with help and support can do so into the future.

‘Caritas is there – before, during and after emergencies. We’ll be there long after the headlines fade from this present crisis. Because in our world today – none of us needs to go hungry, and none of us should.’

Donations to the Caritas Appeal for the Sahel can be made by:

  • Phoning 0800 22 10 22 to make credit card donations or
  • Donating online using a credit card at www.caritas.org.nz or
  • Posting to Caritas, PO Box 12193, Thorndon, Wellington 6144, New Zealand.

Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is a member of Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 165 Catholic aid, development and social justice agencies active in over 200 countries and territories.

Image: Caritas Niger (CADEV) feeding centre in Augustine, Niamey. Mothers and their children wait to be called to assess individual levels of malnutrition and receive the food supplements for one week of treatment. Niger has one of the worst child mortality rates in the world with 120,000 under-five-year-olds dying each year. Half these deaths are linked to malnutrition. Photo: Ryan Worms/Caritas June 2012.