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Responding To The Sahel Food Crisis

Image released by Oxfam shows a women pointing at the dry land in Oud Guedara. Early indicators point to a likely food crisis in 2012, with people at particularly high risk in Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad.

The global community, including the United States, is working to head off and mitigate a humanitarian emergency in Western Africa.

The Sahel region is again facing a food insecurity crisis, with millions projected to need emergency assistance. In response to early warning indicators, the global community, including the United States, is working to head off and mitigate a humanitarian emergency in Western Africa, while building resilience against future drought.

The south-western edge of the Sahara Desert, which includes parts of Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, is known as the Sahel, an Arabic word for Edge of the desert. It is an arid, exceptionally fragile ecosystem that, even in a good year, is hard-pressed to produce enough food to support its population. The Sahel suffered food insecurity crises that affected millions of people in 2005, 2009 and 2010. And by all indicators, this will not be a good year in the Sahel, especially for vulnerable households still recovering from the 2010 crisis.

Early warning monitoring, including by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, or FEWS-NET, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, provides sophisticated analysis of rainfall, harvests, market prices, climatic conditions and nutritional status. This data, coupled with on-the-ground assessments by USAID staff and other humanitarian actors across the region, point to a convergence of indicators for a developing crisis: low rainfall and water levels, poor harvests and lack of pasture, and high food prices.

In addition, a recent rise in conflict and insecurity in Mali and Northern Nigeria threatens to disrupt traditional market flows and further limit food availability.

That is why the United States will send more emergency aid to the people of the Sahel. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in late March, “around 10 million people are in need of emergency assistance. ... The United States is providing an additional $120 million in emergency assistance. With these funds, the U.S. Government is providing nearly $200 million this fiscal year in humanitarian assistance to the Sahel region,” she said.

Secretary Clinton noted that the aid will help alleviate acute hunger and malnutrition by offering life-saving food and highly nutritious therapeutic food for malnourished children.

The funding also supports training of health staff and volunteers in early screening for malnutrition and better feeding practices, as well as cash-for-work and voucher assistance programs to enable vulnerable households to access food markets, while reclaiming pastureland and promoting more sustainable agricultural practices.

This addresses long-term food security and nutrition issues and can help build the resilience necessary to withstand future drought.

“The United States is deeply concerned about the humanitarian emergency in the Sahel region of Africa,” said Secretary Clinton. “In partnership with other donors, we have taken early action in response to early warnings. We are targeting specific pockets of great need while working toward sustainable, longer term development. Together, we are saving lives, mitigating impact, and building resilience.”