Millions of people across the Sahel will be left hungry in the coming months unless multi-million dollar funding shortage for crisis response is filled, aid organizations warn

By mhart

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A huge gap in funding for aid projects aimed at preventing the deepening food crisis in the Sahel region of West Africa is threatening to leave millions of people hungry in the coming months, a coalition of aid organizations has warned today.

Action Against Hunger, Oxfam, Save the Children and World Vision are aiming to provide emergency assistance to nearly six million people across the region – which includes Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal – but say they have so far been able to secure funding for less than a third of this essential work. Nearly US$250 million is needed by all four agencies, but only 52 million has been raised so far.

Action Against Hunger plans to reach one million people but so far has only managed to raise a third of what it needs. Equally, Oxfam has only raised a third of what it needs to reach 1.2 million people. Save the Children, which has plans to help 2.5 million people has only managed to raise 15 percent of its budget, and World Vision plans to help 1.1 million people are only 20 percent funded.

Collectively, this shortfall is equivalent to more than 2 million people being deprived of life-saving assistance and, if it remains, is likely to result in significant cutbacks in the organizations’ aid programs.

The United Nations has also been hit by the funding crisis where less than half of the projected $724 million required to tackle the crisis has been raised. This funding gap is likely to grow further as the situation deteriorates and more money is required.

The aid organizations are seeing increasing malnutrition levels across the Sahel and are calling for a donor pledging conference to rally wealthy governments and donors to generously fund the total aid effort for the food crisis.

Patricia Hoorelbeke, Action Against Hunger’s Regional Representative for West Africa, says: “In the Sahel region of Chad, the global acute malnutrition rate already exceeds the emergency threshold of 15 percent and admissions to our feeding centers have increased dramatically. More than 2,000 severely malnourished children were admitted for therapeutic nutritional care in Kanem last month alone. We have deployed additional emergency staff and scaled up our programmes but further action is needed to prevent the situation from deteriorating.”

In Mauritania, Oxfam is aiming to reach at least 70,000 people with desperately needed food and clean water. However, with a funding gap of over $1.3 million, the organization will only be able to reach half of these people.

Steve Cockburn, Oxfam’s Regional Policy Manager in West Africa, said “There is no doubt that families across West Africa are entering a dangerous period, and we have already seen women forced to search for grains in anthills in order to survive. We are ready to bring assistance to millions of people, but time is running out to get programs in place before the crisis hits its peak and funding is urgently needed. We urge the UN to organize a pledging conference as soon as possible to ensure that 15 million people who risk going hungry are not left without the assistance they so desperately need."

In Niger, Save the Children has only been able to deliver vital cash support to 1 in 10 of the families they plan to reach. “We are already seeing the number of malnourished children needing treatment rise, and unless we can scale up our programs, it will continue to do so,” said Jeremy Stoner, Save the Children’s West Africa Director. “If we act early we can save thousands of lives. We have known that a hunger crisis is brewing in the Sahel for months, but without funding, there is little we can do to stop it. Addressing malnutrition – including in its most acute form here in West and Central Africa – should be high on the agenda of G8 leaders when they meet in the United States next month.”

Chris Palusky, Response Manager for World Vision, said: “We’re at a key moment in the fight to protect lives of children suffering crippling hunger and malnutrition. We’re already seeing people taking extreme measures to cope with the crisis. Some families are resorting to eating wild leaves, others are barely able to feed children one meal a day. We have to act now before the crisis reaches its peak when the most vulnerable will be among those dying from preventable hunger and malnutrition."

In Niger, the lack of funding has prevented World Vision from reaching more than 15,000 malnourished children with a life-saving nutrition project and 22,000 people in need of clean water. “This is a desperate situation," added Palusky. "We've seen how our relief and rehabilitation projects can help save lives and protect communities against future crises when funding is available."