The Sahel region faces its worst food crisis in four years due to a combination of erratic rains, persistent insecurity and high food prices. The situation has deteriorated quickly as thousands of families exhausted their food reserves several months earlier than usual. The situation is particularly worrying in Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad, with an increase of 50 percent in people in need of emergency food assistance compared to last year.
The humanitarian situation in the Sahel is extremely fragile. People across the Sahel have endured a combination of extreme weather and conflict, which requires a complex humanitarian response.
The Sahel is suffering from a food and nutrition crisis due to extreme weather. Nearly 11.8 million people in eight countries need emergency nutritional and food aid assistance to avoid facing acute hunger. Women and children are the worst-affected. Up to 4.2 million children are at risk of malnutrition and in need of lifesaving treatment, a 20 percent increase compared to last year. This year, erratic rains have also forced around 2.5 million pastoralists to move their herds - a practice called 'transhumance' - earlier in search of water and pasture at the end of the agricultural season. This is the earliest livestock transhumance movement witnessed in 30 years.
In addition, people have been forcedly displaced by conflict and insecurity in the Lake Chad area, as well as in Mali and neighbouring regions of Burkina Faso and Niger. Thousands of families have been forced to leave their home to escape insecurity while additional thousands had no other choice but to cut down on meals and healthcare for the family or withdrawing children from school. In some areas, over 50 percent of affected people have already resorted to emergency measures such as selling their most valuable assets, such as their cattle.
The European Union is one of the largest contributors of humanitarian aid to the Sahel. In 2017, the European Union provided €240 million in humanitarian assistance to the region. This amount included €90.2 million for food assistance, €56.7 million for nutrition, €22.5 million for health, €21.7 million for water and sanitation, and shelter, and €11 million for protection.
For 2018, the EU's total humanitarian response to the Sahel countries stands at over €270 million. This includes a contribution by the Department for International Development (DFID) UK Aid, with whom the EU has implemented a joint programme called ‘Providing Humanitarian Assistance to Sahel Emergencies’ (PHASE) since 2015.
Thanks to these combined efforts, the European Union continues to provide emergency nutritional and food aid assistance for population facing hunger (including treatment for malnourished children) and assistance to people affected by conflicts and insecurity.
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 malnourished children. The EU currently funds food assistance in the form of cash transfers, vouchers and food rations for families, ready-to-use therapeutic food, and essential drugs for malnourished children.
The EU’s humanitarian funding also equips health centres with water and hygiene systems, provides training for staff, and ensures screening for children at risk of malnutrition.
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 EU is also working actively on the implementation of the humanitarian-development nexus to address the needs of vulnerable populations in a more sustainable and long-term manner.
The EU is also engaged in disaster risk reduction initiatives that can help local communities to prevent or better prepare for natural hazards.