Humanitarian needs in the Sahel continue to be massive. During the next lean season, 9 million people are expected to be in need of emergency food assistance and 3.5 million children under age five are in need of nutritional treatment. Forced displacement due to conflicts keeps increasing humanitarian needs. Seven countries of the Sahel region host a total of over 1 million refugees, 2.4 million internally displaced people and 1.9 million returnees (since 2014). Humanitarian needs are likely to increase as early as February 2018 in part due to erratic rainfall during the last agricultural season.
Current projections show a sharp increase in the number of people who will need emergency assistance throughout 2018. There are currently 4.8 million people in need of emergency food assistance in the Sahel, a figure that could rise to 9 million during the lean season - June to August - the period between harvests when food stocks are depleted).
In pastoral areas of Mauritania, northern Senegal, Burkina Faso, and Mali an early and severe lean season is expected, affecting negatively the livestock of pastoralist households and putting their food and nutrition security at risk. Overall prices of cereals are on average 25% higher than usual in all Sahel countries except Chad, reducing further the access to food for poor households. Insecurity makes the delivery of assistance very challenging. Due to these combined factors, the number of people in crisis in the Sahel registers a record high since 2014 and a 20% increase compared to last year. The situation is particularly worrying in Mauritania, where more than 10% of the population already requires emergency aid. Many more people will need emergency food assistance during the lean season in Burkina Faso and in Mali. A total of 21 Sahel country regions already have rates of severe and global acute malnutrition that are above the emergency threshold.
The European Union is one of the largest contributors of humanitarian aid to the Sahel. In 2017, the European Commission allocated €234 million in humanitarian assistance to the Sahel. This includes €90.2 million for food assistance, €56.7 million for nutrition, €22.5 million for health, €21.7 million for water, sanitation and hygiene and shelter, and €11 million for protection. Furthermore, disaster risk reduction initiatives have been supported.
Since 2015, the European Commission and the United Kingdom have been implementing a joint programme - "Providing Humanitarian Assistance to Sahel Emergencies" (PHASE). In 2017, the contribution of Department for International Development (DFID) UK Aid totalled €49.4 million.
Thanks to these combined efforts, the European Commission continues to provide multi-sector life-saving assistance to conflict- affected populations and essential food assistance to highly vulnerable households and treatment for severely under-nourished children.
Activities funded include food assistance in the form of cash transfers, vouchers and in-kind food rations, usually provided during the lean season; also the provision of ready-to-use therapeutic food and essential medicine to severely under-nourished children, equipment of health centres with water and hygiene systems, training and supervision of staff and screening of children at risk. The Commission also pursued its assistance to hundreds of thousands of displaced people from Mali, Nigeria, Sudan, and the Central African Republic. In the region, the EU has successfully piloted cash transfer and free health care programmes as social protection measures.
While humanitarian needs remain immense in the region in 2018, further joined-up efforts with development partners are required to help promote the resilience of the most vulnerable populations in the long term and successfully achieve the objectives pursued by the Global Alliance for Resilience Initiative (AGIR).
The initiative was launched during the Sahel food and nutrition crisis of 2012 with the aim of achieving 'Zero Hunger' in the West Africa Sahel region by 2032. The EU was closely involved in establishing AGIR and continues to provide support. The momentum created by AGIR has prompted ten countries in the region to adopt national resilience priorities. They are seeking comprehensive support from the international aid community to translate these priorities into effective action.