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Acting now to prevent catastrophe

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“If we take action now, it will cost us many times less than if we wait until it's a catastrophe,” says CAFOD’s Philippe Mougin, as millions face food shortages in west Africa.

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We are taking early action to lessen the effects of a looming food crisis in Niger and other countries in west Africa. After a poor harvest, food prices across the region are alarmingly high, and millions of people are struggling to afford enough to eat. The crisis – which affects Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Chad – is likely to get worse over the coming months.

“At this time of year, grain prices should be low,” says Gaston Goro from our sister agency Caritas Mali. “But it is quite the opposite this year. The desolation and anxiety affect everyone. The situation will last until next harvest, October 2013. If nothing is done, the crop failure could cause famine.”

The Archbishop of Niamey in Niger, Mgr Michel Cartateguy, said: “The situation is very preoccupying and an immediate response is needed.”

Escaping the hunger cycle

CAFOD and our partner CADEV Niger are already running feeding centres in Niger, and we will scale up our response in the coming weeks.

Our partners in Caritas International – a group of Catholic aid agencies – are planning to buy grain and sell it at subsidised prices, give farmers seeds, and pay people with money or with food to work on projects that benefit their communities.

We previously responded to food crises in Niger in 2005 and 2010. Along with other aid agencies, we recently commissioned a report – Escaping the hunger cycle: pathways to resilience in the Sahel – that calls for early and long-term action to address what has become a chronic crisis in the region.

Philippe Mougin, who leads our West Africa team, said: “Sadly, hunger is a recurring theme in this region, a slow-burning problem that rarely hits the headlines. Responding now means that we can combat malnourishment amongst the most vulnerable - women and children under five. We are working with our partners to prevent the situation from deteriorating further.”