West Africa food crisis: a disaster that doesn't have to happen


Caritas Australia News Story
Malian women cooking near their makeshift shelters in the village of Sinégodar, Tillabery region, Niger.
Photo: Souradja Mahaman/Catholic Relief Service

Millions of people across nine countries in West Africa can be saved from a humanitarian catastrophe if we act now, the Caritas international network has said.

Drought and a subsequent food crisis is endangering an estimated 15 million people in Burkina Faso, Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Chad, northern Nigeria and northern Cameroon.

“We often see acute emergencies where the damage is done before we arrive. This is a protracted emergency playing out over months so if we engage now the full impact of the crisis can be avoided and lives will be saved,” Caritas network West Africa regional technical advisor Ben Safari said.

“This looming crisis is invisible to Australians, but the reality is the potential for a full-scale catastrophe is real and these are people with real families - husbands, wives, brothers and sisters.

“More and more we will be confronted with questions of: how can I find clean water for my family to drink and are we going to survive this drought?” Mr Safari said.

Critical rains are not expected until July, and then the next harvest will come at least three months after, if at all. An alarming number of children and women are already undernourished. Caritas is:

  • Providing food and clean water to the most vulnerable communities
  • Delivering critical medical assistance to children and others suffering from malnutrition
  • Responding rapidly to promote agricultural production and strengthening the resilience of local communities to reduce their vulnerability to future extreme or unusual weather patterns

“These people are in trouble. Fortunately this crisis has been identified relatively early and we have the power to answer their questions by supporting the people of West Africa through the delivery of an early emergency response. That will ensure lives will be saved,” Mr Safari said.

“The coming four to five months will be of particular importance as that is when the rains arrive and farming activities can happen. But with the current crisis, most poor households have consumed their seeds and sold their productive assets, including farm animals, in order to survive,” he said.

“We are already having a major impact across West Africa. But the needs are immense and right now our global family has a unique opportunity to minimise the impact of this potential catastrophe.”
For more information, please visit Caritas Australia

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