Brussels, 17 January 2012 - The European Union's Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva arrives in Niger today amid a looming crisis in Africa's Sahel region. The Commissioner is responding to calls for assistance from the affected countries.
During a four-day visit to the region she will visit Niger and Chad, two of the five Sahel countries (including Burkina Faso, Mali and Mauritania) most at risk of major food shortages over the coming months.
"Nobody should have to live in fear of famine yet within months people will begin to starve unless we act," said the Commissioner. "This is the third time in a decade that this region has fallen into crisis. Every year we save more than 200,000 children from severe acute malnutrition but we must and will go further."
The Commissioner said that, as in the last major crisis in 2010, by anticipating the worst effects of the looming food shortages and acting before they strike more lives would be saved."I am here this week to make sure that we deliver smart aid, targeting the most vulnerable and delivered in the most cost-effective and efficient manner."
She will be evaluating humanitarian needs with the authorities and the European Commission's current response to the crisis as well as identifying the potential needs for further assistance.
Because crops failed in last September's harvest the annual 'lean season' – when food reserves have dwindled – will begin next month instead of June. Seven million people are already facing shortages. Food prices have already risen by 40 per cent, with some forecasts predicting that they will triple with the onset of the lean season.
The Commission has been working to mitigate future crises by establishing an innovative programme through its partners. This programme currently treats more than 200,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition in the Sahel and is working to achieve a permanent and sustainable solution to the region's chronic food security problems.
Commissioner Georgieva added: "The Commission has provided more than €225 million since 2005. But we want to go further and break the cycle of hunger. In the current crisis we've already allocated more than €100 million to fight hunger and we are working closely with other agencies to build a comprehensive aid strategy to cover both the short and long-term actions required to make malnutrition history."
Background Approximately 22.9 million people are beginning 2012 with huge uncertainty about how they will feed themselves and their families.
The Sahel suffers from a chronic malnutrition crisis but the prospects of a full-scale disaster this year have already been signalled with the governments of all five countries taking the unprecedented step of declaring emergencies and calling for international assistance. Early, effective and coordinated action by the Sahel governments supported by the international community can reduce the risk of it turning into a major disaster.
Most people who live in the Sahel are heavily dependent on rain-fed agriculture and livestock for survival. Food production deficits are as high as 52% in comparison to last year while an estimated 1.3 million children in the region are currently suffering from acute severe malnutrition.
The Commission has been at the forefront of the humanitarian response to malnutrition in the Sahel since 2007 when a specific ECHO Sahel Plan was adopted to raise awareness of nutrition issues, demonstrate the effectiveness of nutrition action and advocate for an enhanced focus on nutrition issues.
For more information Commissioner Georgieva's website:
The European Commission's humanitarian aid and civil protection:
David Sharrock (+32 2 296 89 09)
Irina Novakova (+32 2 295 75 17)