Millions of lives are at risk in West Africa, aid agencies have warned, as food aid funding falls woefully short. Warning bells were sounded over the looming crisis last year, but only $52m of the $250m needed has been provided by donors.
The United Nations says around 15.6 million people across nine countries – Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, and northern parts of Nigeria and Cameroon – are already in difficulties. Over one million of them are children, threatened with severe acute malnutrition. Drought, insect infestations and high food prices are the principle problems in the region, known as the Sahel. The UN has launched its own appeal to raise $724m, but that is undersubscribed too – less than half the money has surfaced.
It's a sadly familiar cry. Generally, emergency appeals by the UN receive pledges for less than half the money requested – and then much of what's pledged fails to arrive. Last year the UN's Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs asked for $160m to help Cote d'Ivoire after years of conflict: the appeal raised only 22% of that. Clearly, appeal organisers know this problem and budget for it. But they face new worries: the steeply rising costs of food, and the fact that, as the Economist magazine predicted back in 2009, the international recession has cut overall aid flows.
Further reading: Millions across the Sahel at risk – read the full statement from Action Against Hunger, Oxfam, Save the Children and World Vision.