FAQs about the West Africa drought and hunger crisis

925 million around the world are hungry- that is one in seven. One in four people are undernourished, not receiving the amount of nutrients they need for energy, to work, learn or develop. Every 12 seconds, a child dies from lack of food. These statistics are heartbreaking, but in no way are they the final word. Continue to follow us this week on the Women of Vision blog for a special “Women and Hunger” week as we learn more about hunger, how it affects women and what is being done to make positive change.

From World Vision, by James Addis:

The food crisis is taking a toll on Rakia and her three children, as well as other families in Niger. Photo: World Vision

The deepening food crisis in West Africa’s Sahel region has sparked fears of a famine. Events in the region might easily mirror the kind of devastation seen recently in the Horn of Africa unless urgent action is taken.

Here’s a quick guide to understanding the crisis and how World Vision is responding.

Q: What went wrong?

A deadly combination of low rainfall and rising food prices have led to poor harvests and declining food supplies. Crop yields have been nonexistent in some areas and severely reduced in others.  

In addition, recent conflicts, the return of hundreds of migrant workers, and a flow of refugees from Mali into one of the most affected areas of Niger further strained an already stressed food supply. 

Q: How many people are affected?

As many as 15 million people spread across the region in countries such as Niger, Mauritania, Mali, Chad, and Senegal are either already facing desperate food shortages or are in imminent danger of doing so. According to Niger’s Early Warning System (SAP), more than 6 million Nigeriens need immediate assistance.

Most disturbingly to World Vision, nearly 3 million children under the age of 5 across the region are affected. West Africa is the world’s poorest region, and World Vision is concerned about the most vulnerable groups — pregnant women and children — in the most-affected countries.

Q: How is instability in the region making things worse?

Problems have been compounded by violence in Mali and Nigeria, and returnees from Libya. Traditionally, during tough times, Niger’s men find work in Nigeria and send remittances home.

However, a series of bombings and killings by a radical sect has prompted the government of Nigeria to seal borders with neighboring countries, fearing that they may be used as rebel bases.

Meanwhile, fighting between military forces and Tuareg rebels in Mali and a recent coup is forcing tens of thousands of refugees to flee to Mauritania, Niger, and Burkino Faso, putting further pressure on host communities already suffering food shortages.

Food supplies have been drained further by about 90,000 mostly young men who have returned to the region following the rebellion that toppled Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. 

Q: What is the impact on children?

Hungry children are more vulnerable to malnutrition and disease, and they must walk longer distances to find water — making them vulnerable to attacks by animals and human predators.

In addition, children are more likely to drop out of school. They find it hard to concentrate on lessons, girls seek domestic work in the cities to support their families, and schooling is disrupted when families leave hard-hit areas in search of food and opportunities elsewhere.

Q: When are the rains likely to return?

The next rains are due in July. Even if there is good rainfall in July, there will be no harvest until October. 

Q: How is World Vision helping?

World Vision has extensive programs in Niger, Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, and Chad, designed to immediate needs and improve long-term food security.

To meet the needs of more than 1 million people in the region, our response activities include:

> Nutrition programs for children
> Food distributions
> Vaccinating livestock
> Distributing seeds
> Drilling additional wells
> Educating parents to help them keep their children healthy
> Restocking cereal banks
> Providing additional livestock — much of it through World Vision Gift Catalog donations

World Vision is also actively advocating for national governments, regional organizations, the United Nations, and the international community to act immediately to prevent this crisis from happening again.

Q: How much funding is needed for an effective response?

World Vision, Action Against Hunger, Oxfam, and Save the Children are aiming to provide emergency assistance to nearly 6 million people across the region. In total, the four organizations need $239.77 million to fund relief operations. So far, they have managed to raise less than a third, only $51.67 million, leaving a shortfall of more than $188 million. 

In Niger, lack of funding has already forced World Vision to cut back on programs. Funding shortfalls have prevented World Vision from reaching more than 15,000 children with a nutrition project and 22,000 people in need of clean water.

The United Nations is also facing difficulties in garnering funds to respond to the crisis. The UN appealed to donor governments for $724 million in December, but as of April 12, had secured only 56 percent of this total. Moreover, funding needs are expected to grow as the crisis worsens.

Q: What are the consequences of inaction?

The consequences are likely to be an extended period of hunger and malnutrition, a lack of seeds for a new harvest next year, mass migration from rural to urban areas, massive loss of livestock, exorbitant food prices, and a diminished ability of affected populations to feed themselves in the future.

And, of course, the most dire consequence of extended drought and lack of food is loss of life.

Q: What is World Vision’s history in West Africa?

World Vision began work in West Africa in 1973 by providing emergency relief in drought-hit Niger. In 1975, it began water, agriculture, and literacy projects in Mali. Currently, World Vision works in seven countries in the region — Chad, Ghana, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Sierra Leone.

More than 360,000 children in the region benefit from World Vision child sponsorship programs designed to improve their access to healthcare, clean water, and education and provide better economic prospects for their families. 

Four ways you can help

Please pray for families in West Africa who are impacted by this looming food crisis, and for those in the Horn in Africa who are still suffering from the drought and food crisis there during the past year. Pray that all would find the nutrition they need. Pray that organizations would be able to work together to help avert a major crisis in West Africa. Pray for peace and stability in the insecure regions.

Make a one-time gift to help provide life-saving food and care to hungry children. Your donation will help deliver emergency food aid, agricultural support, and more to children and families at risk from food shortages.

Give monthly to provide assistance for children suffering from hunger. Your monthly contribution will help provide critical interventions like emergency food aid, agricultural assistance, clean water, and more to those in greatest need. 

Speak out. Urge your members of Congress to protect the International Affairs Budget from drastic cuts. This budget funds life-saving interventions around the world, including West Africa. Making up only about 1 percent of the entire budget, there are few places in the U.S. federal budget where dollars translate so directly into lives saved.

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