Concern Worldwide warns that slow response will cost lives
New York, January 24, 2012 – After an international symposium on nutrition and food security in Rome last week, Concern Worldwide warned that large areas of Africa’s Sahel region could slide into a full-scale emergency if the global community does not act now to prevent food shortages and malnutrition.
Nearly 12 million people are at risk of hunger across Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso. This means that without assistance, they will soon not have access to enough food to meet their daily nutritional needs. The epicenter of this impending crisis is Niger, where 5.4 million people are food-insecure, of whom 1.3 million are severely affected. Poor harvests in neighboring Chad threaten similar crisis conditions there.
"In the past week, voices in the aid community warned that the slow response to the Horn of Africa crisis cost lives. We can avoid repeating that mistake in the Sahel by responding now, while we still have time to avert large-scale suffering and loss of life,” said Concern Overseas Director, Paul O’Brien. “The facts show that early intervention reduces suffering, saves more lives—and costs a lot less—than large-scale emergency relief operations. Early intervention can cost between seven and nine times less—and yields more effective results.”
According to former UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, Jan Egeland, it would have cost $1 a day per child to prevent malnutrition if international donors had launched an early response to the 2005 Niger food crisis. But that large-scale early response never occurred, and by July 2005, it cost $80 a day per child to provide emergency medical treatment for severe malnutrition. “Reactive response is an outdated, less effective and more costly model of overseas development and humanitarian aid,” said O’Brien. “Concern has learned this through 43 years of experience responding to the world’s most major food crises: early intervention is vital. Today, we see clear warning signs of a massive food crisis emerging in the Sahel, and we urge the international community to avoid a repeat of the crisis in the Horn by responding early and responding big.”
The nearly 12 million people currently at-risk of severe food insecurity live in vulnerable communities across the Sahel region of Africa—a climactic zone along the southern edge of the Sahara desert that stretches from the Atlantic in the west to the Red Sea in the east. Even in non-‘crisis’ years, an estimated 300,000 children in the Sahel die from causes related to malnutrition.
“This looming emergency has been triggered by failed rains and failed crops, volatile spikes in food prices, lost incomes from remittances and increased demand for food as migrants from Niger and other parts of the Sahel have been forced to return to their home countries due to conflicts in Libya and Cote d’Ivoire,” said O’Brien. “Concern has been sharing and acting upon early warning signs in Niger since last year. In Chad, we are planning a comprehensive response targeting those affected, and seeking funding to expand operations in the East of the country.”
In Niger, the cost of staple food, millet, spiked by 37 percent last month alone, and an estimated 400,000 children were malnourished as of August 2011, an increase of more than 15 percent from the previous year. In Chad, the government has issued an appeal for international assistance, and food production is down by 50 percent. More than 80,000 Chadians have returned from Libya, where they were earning income, and their return has increased the demand for food and jobs.
Concern Worldwide has been operating in Niger since 2003 and in Chad since 2007, working to reduce hunger, poverty and vulnerability to disasters. Concern is launching early interventions in both countries to prevent malnutrition and improve access to food.
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