• It is time to break the cycle of food insecurity in the Sahel

    14 Feb 2012

    Photo: WFP/Phil Behan

    A food crisis is looming in the West of the Sahel, a semi-arid belt stretching from Africa’s Atlantic coast to the Red Sea.

    In the lean season, which starts in April, millions of people from Mauritania to Chad will likely require food and nutritional support. For instance, it is estimated that more than a million children will need life-saving treatment for severe and acute malnutrition in 2012.

    Across the Sahel, extreme weather events, leading to failed harvests and food price increases, have created pockets of acute food insecurity. In addition, the crisis in Libya and the current fighting in Mali have aggravated the security and humanitarian situation in the region.

    But the key issue is chronic poverty. In the Sahel, the most vulnerable people struggle to feed themselves even in good years, because they lack the livelihoods to buy or produce sufficient quantities of nutritious food.

    Lack of investment in rural infrastructure; limited access to credit, markets and insurance schemes; and poor social protection coverage, including health services, cause many households to break down when times get even tougher.

    Later this week, the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Helen Clark, and the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, will be in the region to offer support in the face of the impending crisis, underscoring the need to integrate humanitarian and development assistance in the region.

    UNDP has been supporting the capacities of governments in the Sahel to both reduce the impact of disasters and address the long-term causes of food insecurity. In Burkina Faso, UN agencies are currently working with the government to integrate disaster risk reduction into the country’s development plans, while in Niger, UNDP has trained 60 institutions involved in the management of crises and natural disasters.  

    Across four countries - Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger - UNDP is bringing together local and international development actors around a common plan to identify bottlenecks and practical solutions to dramatically reduce hunger over time, through the Millennium Development Goals Acceleration Framework.

    Priority actions will aim to widen access to seeds and fertilizer, and decentralize the services that provide them; improve nutrition for all; expand social protection; and enhance the technical know-how of small-scale farmers.

    But there is still a long way to go. These longer term initiatives require additional domestic and international financing to build institutional capacities and ensure that communities are better prepared to cope the next time a disaster occurs.

    We know what is needed to break the cycle of hunger in the Sahel. By investing in the long-term, Sahelian countries and their partners will be in a position to prevent the recurring cycle of hunger in the region.

    Talk to us: What are your ideas to break the cycle?


About the author
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Tegegnework Gettu is the Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management. Mr. Gettu previously headed up UNDP Africa in addition to serving as Assistant Administrator of UNDP and Assistant Secretary-General of the UN.

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Helen Clark: Urgent Call for Action in the Sahel