A race against time to avert catastrophe in the Sahel
(Nouakchott/New York, 27 March 2012) The humanitarian situation across the Sahel region continues to deteriorate at an alarming rate despite commendably early action by Governments and international aid agencies, concluded OCHA’s Operations Director John Ging at the end of a week-long mission to Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.
More than 15 million people are directly affected by an escalating food and nutrition crisis as a result of the ongoing drought, compounded by conflict and insecurity. Some 100,000 refugees from Mali are seeking refuge in neighbouring countries and tens of thousands of migrant workers have returned from Libya and Ivory Coast, ending remittances and causing a collapse in the coping mechanisms of many poor communities.
“We are in a race against time and some of the harshest climatic conditions on the planet,” Mr. Ging said at the end of his mission. He underlined the urgent need to accelerate the pace of the response. “More than 200,000 children died of malnutrition last year and over one million are threatened with severe acute malnutrition right now.”
At a meeting with the ambassadors of donor countries in Nouakchott, Mr. Ging encouraged their continued generosity, pointing to the clearly visible and positive lifesaving impact of their funding to date. However, response plans across the region are less than 40 per cent funded and the crisis is expected to peak in the coming months. “This is already an appalling crisis in terms of the scale and degree of human suffering and it will get worse unless the response plans are properly funded,” he said. “It’s a matter of life or death for millions who are on the brink.”
Close coordination between aid agencies and national Governments in the development of response plans in the region is building on international best practice tailored to the specifics of each locality. The response focuses on the effective management of natural resources, particularly water conservation, through maximizing efficient irrigation, expanding cultivation areas, and increasing agricultural output.
“We must focus on both the immediate and longer-term issues simultaneously, as building resilience and sustainable livelihoods capable of coping with the new climatic reality across the Sahel is key to saving lives,” said Mr. Ging.
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