Sunday, January 22, 2012

Drought returns to Sahel, bringing hunger

Rukmini Callimachi in the San Francisco Chronicle, via the Associated Press: For the third time in the past decade, drought has returned to the arid, western shoulder of Africa, bringing hunger to millions. Aid agencies are warning that if action is not taken now, the region known as the Sahel could slip into crisis.

More than 1 million children in the eight affected countries are expected to face life-threatening malnutrition this year, according to the United Nations Children's Fund. The region has not yet recovered from the last drought two years ago, and many families lost their herds which means that they will not have assets to purchase food.

Aid workers also worry that donors are suffering from "famine fatigue," as the looming West African crisis comes just six months after Somalia's capital was declared a famine zone. "I think there is a real risk that people may think this is the kind of thing that just happens every few years," Stephen Cockburn, the West Africa regional campaign manager for Oxfam, said of the droughts in the Sahel.

Earlier this week, aid agencies revealed that thousands of people died needlessly in the Horn of Africa because donors waited until people started dying to respond. The warning signs were there as early as August 2010 but aid wasn't ramped up until July 2011.

Signs of the looming famine in the Sahel were first detected late last year, according to the report released Wednesday by Oxfam and Save the Children. The lessons of Somalia and the Horn of Africa, where as many as 100,000 people died, are front and center in how aid agencies are responding to the potential famine in West Africa...

Locator map of the Sahel by Altatoron, Wikimedia Commons, public domain

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