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.
In a new report published today, international agency Oxfam says that the aid community needs to fundamentally change the way it deals with food crises in the region and help communities to better prepare for recurring emergencies.
The 2012 humanitarian response to the food crisis in the Sahel was bigger and better than previous crises, but millions of people still missed out on vital assistance, and remain vulnerable today, the report reveals. While over 5 million people received food aid from the World Food Programme alone, and more children were treated for malnutrition than ever before, 5.6 million people missed out on seeds and tools needed to plant crops and prepare for the next harvest.
The agency says that the international community and national authorities need to better understand why and who is vulnerable to food crises, break down the short-term emergency and long-term development barriers inherent in the aid community, and invest more in national and local governments and organizations who must be better placed to respond to crises.
The report, Learning the Lessons, which evaluates the quality of the humanitarian response in 2012, is launched at a time when ten million people across the region continue to be threatened by hunger, and five million children are still affected by malnutrition. A flood-hit harvest in food-exporting Nigeria is adding further pressures, while last week experts judged that food security in northern Mali has reached crisis level.
A bigger and better response
“It’s right to say that the response to the food crisis was bigger and better than we have seen before, but wrong to think it was good enough. Complacency is a huge risk. The first thing we need to do is recognise that the crisis is not over yet. Millions of poor families still struggle to buy enough food to eat as food prices remain high and conflict is still disrupting markets in the region. We need to radically change the way we respond to these recurrent crises to both saves lives and put people on a better footing to withstand this cycle of hunger,” said David Macdonald, Oxfam’s Regional Director.
The 2012 food crisis put over 18 million people in nine countries at risk of hunger, jeopardizing their lives and livelihoods, while over one million children were at risk of severe acute malnutrition.
Oxfam says that lives were saved because early warning systems worked well, governments in the Sahel recognized the crisis and called for support early on, and some donors, especially the European Commission Humanitarian Office, released funds quickly and generously and aid agencies were quick to respond.
Yet there were significant weaknesses that meant millions missed out. Initial disagreement around the severity of the crisis led to a critical delay in the response, and 50 per cent of the requested funding was still missing as the crisis approached its peak. Despite improved engagement from governments in the region, there were still critical gaps in their capacity to lead the response to the crisis.
The report argues that 2013 provides a decisive opportunity to introduce a new and better model for tackling hunger, strengthening the resilience of populations in the region to cope and even thrive despite external shocks such as drought. As well as learning the immediate lessons of the 2012 crisis, the report also calls for greater investment in small-scale agriculture, food reserves and social protection programmes, as well as scaling up efforts to prevent and treat malnutrition.
Oxfam thanks Action Contre la Faim and Save the Children for their contribution to the report.
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Photos: Sahel: Photos of a food crisis foretold (2011-2012)