A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
Ten leading aid agencies today called for a 'surge' in the humanitarian effort to help 10 million people at risk of acute hunger across the Sahel region of West and Central Africa.
The center of the crisis is Niger, where seven million people, almost half the population, do not have enough food. A further two million people in Chad, and hundreds of thousands more in Mali, Mauritania, parts of Burkina Faso and the extreme north of Nigeria are also suffering as a result of the crisis.
The agencies – including ACF, Care International, Oxfam, Save the Children and Tearfund ¹ – said that new malnutrition figures underlined the need to act immediately. The latest statistics from Niger show that nearly 17 percent of children under five are now suffering from acute malnutrition, over a third higher than the number last year.
Six months of warnings
A high level political response is needed to galvanise the effective and urgent delivery of aid as well as to ensure more funding. In particular, the agencies urged the UN to appoint a special representative for the crisis to help speed up the massive aid effort across several countries, and negotiate with governments both in the crisis-affected countries and the donor states.
Despite over six months of warnings, the funding for the crisis has been paltry and slow with the UN appeal for Niger still $107 million short of its target. Some countries have increased their support, but others have been slower and less generous. The aid agencies called on rich countries to give generously and immediately fund the crisis in order to prevent a catastrophe, and to engage at highest political levels to overcome current delays in the delivery of aid.
In 2005, delays cost lives
Delays in funding have resulted in the late purchase and delivery of food to the affected areas. In Niger, for example, World Food Programme (WFP) distributions started too late and with a reduced number of people receiving food aid. On 2 July WFP announced it will increase the number of people it is helping in Niger from two to 4.5 million in the face of the appalling new malnutrition figures. In Chad, where the WFP needs an extra $20 million, food distributions are planned for only two months – yet as in Niger, it will take three or more months for the next harvest to be ready.
Kirsty Hughes, Oxfam said:
"In parts of the Sahel, people are scavenging for wild leaves and seeds, and drinking dirty water. Whole villages are starving and desperate for food with children, nursing mothers, and the elderly particularly at risk. In aid ministries around the world, they know this is happening, they know what needs to happen, and they know that the last time there was a slow response to a major food crisis there in 2005, delays cost lives and it took years for people to recover. The question is: Why don't you act?"
Drought, crop failure, pest infestations, increases in food prices and abject levels of poverty have triggered severe food shortages and poor grazing land, forcing people to leave their homes, and sell or kill their starving livestock and their meager possessions. Such desperate measures not only indicate the depth of the crisis but also undermine investment in long-term development, the aid agencies warn.
Niger, the world's least developed country, is the worst hit with 7.1 million people in need of humanitarian aid. Nearly half a million children under the age of five are acutely malnourished, with a risk of permanent damage or death if they are not treated urgently. The cereal harvest has fallen by 30 percent and pasture, essential for livestock herders, is 60 percent below requirements.
In Chad, a country also affected by a long running conflict, some two million are affected by food shortages. There are reports of women resorting to eating seeds from anthills, with malnutrition rates of 27 percent in some locations. Hundreds of thousands more are at risk in Mali, Burkina Faso and northern Nigeria.
Notes to editors
- The agencies involved are: ACF/Action Against Hunger, CAFOD, Care International, Christian Aid, Concern Worldwide, Oxfam, Plan, Save the Children, Tearfund, World Vision.
- According to the latest financial tracking figures from OCHA published on 5 July, the UN appeal for Niger is now $107,200,898 short of its target of $253,189,300.
- Global acute malnutrition rate in Niger has reached 16.7% for children aged 5 or younger, above the emergency threshold. Source: Government of Niger/UNICEF Nutritional Survey June 2010.
- 455,000 children under the age of five are suffering from global acute malnutrition, of which 86,800 are suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Source: Government of Niger/UNICEF Nutritional Survey June 2010.
Contacts at the aid agencies:
- ACF/Action Against Hunger: Christine Kahmann, +44 (0)20 8293 6197, +44 (0)79 8332 6556, email@example.com
- CAFOD: Nana Anto-Awuakye, +44( 0)20 7095-5456, +44 (0)7799 477 541 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Care International:
- UK - Kathryn Richards, +44 (0)77 93 54 37 94, Richards@careinternational.org
- International - Melanie Brooks, +41.795.903.047, email@example.com
- Christian Aid: Emma Pomfret, +44 (0)207 523 2427, +44 (0)7554 024539, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Concern: Sarah Molloy, +44 (0)207 810 1855 email@example.com
- Oxfam: Tricia O'Rourke, +44 (0)1865 272466, +44 (0)7920 596358 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Plan UK: Alistair Clay, email@example.com, +(0)44 7919 574180
- World Vision: Tennille Bergin, +44 (0)1908 841 075, +44 (0)7876 503 978, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Save the Children: Mallary Gelb, +44 (0)207 012 65, email@example.com
- Tearfund: Jonathan Spencer, +44 (0)20 8943 7901, firstname.lastname@example.org