Due to erratic rains, persistent insecurity and high food prices, the Sahel region is facing its worst food crisis in four years. The situation is particularly worrying in the six countries (Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad), where people in need of emergency food assistance have increased by 50% compared to last year. The situation is deteriorating fast as thousands of families exhausted their food reserves four months earlier than usual and the next harvest is only in September.
The humanitarian situation in the Sahel is extremely fragile: nearly 11.8 million people in eight countries need immediate food assistance to avoid facing acute hunger, women and children being hit the hardest. Up to 4 million children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition and need lifesaving treatment, a 20% increase compared to last year.
Shortages of water and fodder have led to the earliest transhumance movements in 30 years, severely threatening around 2.5 million pastoralists and agro-pastoralists. Thousands of families are forced to adopt negative coping strategies such as cutting down on meals and healthcare, or withdrawing children from school. In some areas, over 50% of affected people have already resorted to emergency measures such as selling valuable assets like cattle, or migrating.
This crisis situation might last longer than expected as the rainy season might be delayed this year. Scaling-up nutritional and food aid assistance in response to the crisis is vital.
The European Union is one of the largest contributors of humanitarian aid to the Sahel. In 2017, the European Commission gave €240 million in humanitarian assistance to the people living there. It included €90.2 million for food assistance, €56.7 million for nutrition, €22.5 million for health, €21.7 for water and sanitation, and shelter; and €11 million for protection.
Since 2015, the European Commission and the United Kingdom have implemented a joint programme called ‘Providing Humanitarian Assistance to Sahel Emergencies’ (PHASE). In 2017, the contribution of Department for International Development (DFID) UK Aid was close to €50 million.
Thanks to these combined efforts, the European Commission continues to provide life-saving assistance to conflict-affected populations and essential food assistance to vulnerable households and treatment for severely under-nourished children.
In 2018, the EU plans to assist more than one million people in need of emergency food assistance while providing treatment for more than 300 000 severely malnourished children at risk of dying. Activities which are currently funded include food assistance in the form of cash transfers, vouchers and in-kind food rations, and ready-to-use therapeutic food and essential drugs to boost severely under-nourished children. Commission humanitarian funding also equips health centres with water and hygiene systems, training staff, and screening children at risk.
While humanitarian needs are immense in the region this year, joint efforts with development partners are required to help build long-term resilience. The Global Alliance for Resilience Initiative (AGIR) was launched during the Sahel food and nutrition crisis of 2012 with the aim of achieving 'Zero Hunger' in the 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.
The Commission is also engaged in disaster risk reduction initiatives that can help populations prevent or better prepare for natural hazards.