AID agencies have warned of a four-week “window of opportunity” to prevent the food crisis in the Sahel region of Africa from turning into another famine on the scale of Somalia, which killed tens of thousands of people last year (News, 27 January).
Factors including rising food prices, failed harvests, and the impact of climate change have led to the looming crisis. One million children are already at risk of severe malnutrition, and about 5.4 million people are struggling to find enough to eat, the UN has said.
Governments in the region have called for international help, and EU countries, including the UK, have responded. An appeal by the UN, however, is still short by about $450 million, the international director of Christian Aid, Paul Valentin, said.
Mr Valentin has just returned from a visit to Burkina Faso, part of the affected region. “My main concern is that the international community will wake up too late. . . We have a four-week window of opportunity to get everything into gear now; after that, everything will deteriorate very fast, and we will be looking only at putting a sticking plaster on the crisis.”
Targeted feeding of children and vulnerable families was needed now to avert famine, he said. People were exhausted after years of droughts and floods, and were without any coping mechanisms. Food prices have also gone up by more than 30 per cent. But helping now would be more cost effective than helping when the tragedy had reached “immense proportions”.
The UN World Food Programme has held an emergency summit of aid agencies to address the crisis.