18/01/2012 – "The alarm bells are ringing, we need to act now", this was the message from the European Commissioner for international cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response, Kristalina Georgieva. The Commissioner is currently visiting the Sahel and today announced that the European Commission is to double its humanitarian aid to the African Sahel region to €95 million in response to this food crisis. The Commissioner is making every effort to draw attention to the looming food crisis in the region and make sure EU aid will arrive in time to avoid the worst. She is visiting Niger and Chad, two of the five Sahel countries most at risk of spiralling food shortages over the coming months (the others being Burkina Faso, Mali and Mauritania).
"This crisis will bite from next month onward and we are now in a race against time", Commissioner Georgieva warned. "I am determined to ensure that the European Commission will mobilise €250 million to cover food assistance and longer term food security in the Sahel. We are already doing a lot, but this crisis needs an even greater response. I appeal to everyone, the international community and the governments in the region, to do all they can to assist".
The logic behind the importance of early intervention is simple; normally the 'lean season' begins in the Sahel in June, this year because of failed harvests in 2011, it is expected to begin as early as February; without timely intervention people will be starving to death by June. Already rising world food prices underline the necessity of reacting to this crisis now. Prices are already 40% above normal, when the lean season begins they are expected to triple.
Commissioner Georgieva went on to point out, "Without clear intervention now, there is a high risk of a full blown food crisis by June. We helped prevent a large-scale food crisis in the Sahel in 2010 and we are investing more in the coming months. I am here this week to make sure that we make best use of this money by spending it efficiently, at the right time on the right things so that it can save as many lives as possible".
The Commission has been working to mitigate future crises by establishing an innovative programme through its partners. This programme currently treats more than 200,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition in the Sahel and is working to achieve a permanent and sustainable solution to the region's chronic food security problems.
Approximately 22.9 million people are beginning 2012 with huge uncertainty about how they will feed themselves or their families. Information systems suggest nearly 7 million of this population is particularly at risk.
The Sahel suffers from a chronic malnutrition crisis; 600 000 children under five years of age die every year in the Sahel in a 'non-crisis year', 300 000 of these deaths are from malnutrition related causes. Information coming through from the Commission's field offices suggests 2012 will be much worse; food productions deficits are as high as 52% in comparison to last year (in Mauritania), while an estimated 1.3 million children in the region are currently suffering from acute malnutrition.
All five of the affected countries have issued appeals for humanitarian assistance in recent months; this was not the case in previous years and further highlights the potential magnitude of the 2012 crisis.