US government leadership needed to fight Sahel food crisis

By Ben Grossman-Cohen

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Washington, DC- The United States must speed-up delivery of life-saving aid to address the looming hunger crisis in the Sahel, ensure assistance is directed effectively to those who most need it and work in coordination with other actors to resolve the political crisis in Mali and keep humanitarian relief flowing, said international relief and development organization Oxfam America.

A new report from Oxfam shows that more than 15 million people in seven African countries are threatened by a food crisis, which requires urgent US leadership and assistance. The US has pledged a total of $200 million to the crisis, out of an estimated $724 million that is needed so far. Previous crises in the region have seen slow response to early warning alarms and delayed aid deliveries by months, which can mean life or death for many facing immediate needs.

“The US needs to step up to the plate and work with governments and local organizations  to make sure that the people of the Sahel are getting the most timely and effective help possible,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America. “Pledges alone do not save lives. Action does.”

Representatives from Oxfam and partner organizations are on a global tour to capitals around the world to urge attention and action for the crisis in the Sahel. Farmers and agricultural experts from the region will meet with members of the Obama administration and leaders on Capitol Hill this week to give a first-hand account of the humanitarian crisis currently unfolding in West Africa.

“We are already witnessing distressing signs of a food crisis,” said Mahomdou Issoufou, Executive Director of the Federation of Unions of Farmers Groups in Niger. “People are resorting to extreme coping strategies including searching for grain in the earth that ants may have stored. We are happy that the US has pledged to help. But we are here to make sure that aid gets to those who need it most and can use it best, especially women and young children and those affected by conflict.”

Estimated need is expected to rise to more than $1 billion in the coming months. By investing now in earlier and more cost-effective actions, the United States can ensure vulnerable populations are protected at a much lower cost than if action is delayed until the crisis is at its peak.

“Like in many food emergencies, there is actually food available in the region which can help save many lives,” said Mamadou GOÏTA, Executive Secretary of the Network of Farmers’ and Agricultural Producers’ Organizations of West Africa (ROPPA).  “Most countries in the region are already mobilizing to help resolve the crisis. The US has an important role to help support locally led relief efforts.”

The current situation in the Sahel is the cumulative result of short and long-term factors. Cycles of drought combined with low levels of agricultural investment, environmental degradation, high population growth and acute levels of poverty have contributed to structural chronic vulnerability where even moderate external shocks can have major impacts.

Since late January 220,000 people have been internally displaced or fled to neighboring countries as the result of the conflict in Mali, a situation that remains extremely unstable following the coup d’état in late March. Heightened insecurity has increased emergency needs and hampered humanitarian response to communities requiring urgent support.

“President Obama and Secretary Clinton need to show leadership and work with the international community to resolve the political crisis in Mali,” said Offenheiser. “The stakes are too high to simply allow this crisis to continue unabated.”

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Notes to Editors:

To read the Sahel Food Crisis report: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/publications/sahel-food-crisis

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