How do you feel when you are hungry? Weak. Tired. Unable to concentrate, study or work. What do you do? You grab something to eat.
However, one in seven people on this planet cannot. They cannot afford to buy food and their fields are dry. They suffer from chronic hunger. Hunger leads to illness. The body starts to feed on itself, eventually leading to starvation and death.
Exactly that is now happening in the Sahel region of West Africa (Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad). People there are facing the consequence of a combination of drought, poor harvest and soaring food prices. An estimated 15.5 million people are affected by this food crisis, of which nearly 8 million are at risk of severe food insecurity, the risk of dying from hunger. Five countries in the region have declared states of emergency and asked the world for help.
The most vulnerable are the more than one million children now exposed to severe malnutrition. The impact of under-nutrition is particularly tragic on very young children, often under two years of age. If these children do not get help in time, their mental and physical development will be stunted, and their dreams will die, even if they physically survive. Every child in the Sahel should have the opportunity to play football and to dream about becoming another Seydou Keita from Mali, John Obi Mikel from Nigeria, or Alain Traore from Burkina Faso
This unbearable suffering obliges all of us to work together very closely and with determination to help these children develop properly - and have a future. Humanitarian aid aims to save lives. When fighting under-nutrition saving lives means treating severely malnourished children in therapeutic feeding centres and helping their parents with vouchers and cash so they can buy food again.
What can you do about all that? It is true that the EU and the UN are already active in the Sahel region with projects aimed at averting the worst. The European Commission alone has already mobilised € 123 million in humanitarian aid this year to help 6 million people in the Sahel escape starvation. But even this will not be enough given the massive scale of the problem. We need more help, more attention and more awareness to save more lives.
This is why this year's 'Professional Football Against Hunger' campaign is sounding the alarm on the Sahel to avoid a repeat of the catastrophe last year in the Horn of Africa. This is why the European Commission has joined the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) in this campaign.
And this is why the two of us, a European Commissioner for humanitarian aid, and a professional footballer and FAO Goodwill Ambassador, have joined forces and appeal to you.
Professional football has the power to mobilise public awareness that we need to help the people of the Sahel. The "Professional Football against Hunger" Campaign is coming back into the stadiums of Europe to celebrate the 3rd Match Day Against Hunger. Players and referees will 'sound the alarm' on the Sahel where urgent action is needed now.
The Match Day will take place on 31 March – 2 April this year. Throughout this weekend over 300 clubs in 20 leagues across 16 countries will dedicate their matches to the Sahel crisis. They will reach millions of fans, from Glasgow to Vienna and from Moscow to Madrid.
Europeans are already doing a lot, through their governments, through the EU. But you can also reach out yourself. Join the team. Tell your friends, tell your colleagues. Sign the petition at endinghunger.org. Or you may also donate a small amount to an aid organisation in your country that works in the Sahel. With as little as 20 Euros, one child can be brought out of hunger and malnutrition in a few weeks time.
It is important that we do not stay silent when our fellow humans are dying of hunger. Because the suffering of any human being diminishes all of us. It's our responsibility to speak up and help. Together we can save lives and win the match against hunger.
Raúl González Blanco
Spain's leading goal scorer of all times, Raúl González, was appointed FAO Goodwill Ambassador in October 2004, at the age of 27. He has helped Real Madrid win three Champions League titles (the last was in 2002), two European-South American Cups and four Spanish championships. He currently plays with Schalke 04 in Germany. In addition to his impressive sports talents, his commitment to humanitarian causes has won him the respect of the public.
Is the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, Crisis Response and International Cooperation. She directs the European Commission's Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil protection (ECHO) with 750 staff around the globe, whose main mission is to deliver humanitarian assistance to people affected by natural and man-made disasters. Since its creation 20 years ago in April 1992, ECHO has channelled around €14 billion to victims of disasters in over 140 countries. Today, an average of €1 billion is provided annually, helping nearly 150 million of the world's most vulnerable people each year by providing food, shelter, water and other forms of life-saving assistance. Together with the support provided by EU Member States, the European Union is the world's leading humanitarian donor.