Humanitarian agencies say at least one billion dollars is needed to prevent many people from going hungry in Africa's Sahel region. They say about 15 million people are affected by a deepening food crisis.
The Sahel stretches across nearly a dozen countries in the northern part of Africa, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. Warnings about a food crisis in some of the western and central Sahel countries have been ongoing. However, funding for aid efforts has fallen far short of appeals.
The United Nations has appealed for more than $700 million dollars, but so far has received less than half. Also a coalition of four NGOs is requesting $250 million for Sahel aid efforts. Only about $52 million has been raised.
World Vision, Action Against Hunger, Save the Children and Oxfam are making the joint funding request. Chris Webster is with World Vision's Global Rapid Response Team and is based in Niger.
"You have a food crisis running across the whole of the Sahel region. It's affecting a reported 15 million people. Around one million children are severely malnourished. The situation is serious," he said.
And getting worse
Despite the scope of the crisis, Webster says it has not received the same media attention that the drought and famine in East Africa did.
"Thankfully, so far, we're not seeing the suffering that we've seen in the east of Africa. But what we are aware of is that people in five weeks' time are going to be starving. That's a fact from the indicators that we're looking at. What we're trying to do here in West Africa is intervene before it reaches that point. So there's an imperative to respond early," he said.
Webster describes the food crisis as complex, with drought being just one of the factors.
Specifically this year we've seen failed rains. We often get rains, but they're often too short and at the wrong times. So we're not able to see the harvests that we need. Within the region we've got some complex political issues as well and governance and conflict in Mali, which has led to some 200,000 people to leave their homes. So the combination of that and the instability that that causes on top of the lack of food.
The conflict in northern Mali is forcing civilians to seek safety in neighboring countries. Most have gone to Mauritania. Webster said the refugees are bearing the brunt of both the food crisis and conflict.
"People are arriving there with nothing. They're living in camps, which are just sheets on sticks with a few pots and pans. And there's a fierce wind blowing across this desert. The heat is unbearable. And so there we're able to see the extent of that suffering already playing out in those refugee camps. Now, I think what we're seeing there are the kind of things we're going to be seeing more and more in some of these communities that are at risk," he said.
The humanitarian NGO coalition said the needed funding is not only for emergency food aid, healthcare and shelter. They say the money would also be spent to boost community resilience, such as livelihood development and agricultural reforms. Such things, they say, could help communities better withstand erratic rainfall and political instability.
The NGOs are calling on G8 leaders to consider the Sahel crisis at their summit next month.