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Sahel food crisis: Where are we at the end of 2012?

A woman in Biaitilaye village, Kedougou, Senegal. Oxfam America and local partner organization AKAD (Association Kedougou Action Development) have been responding to a food crisis in southern Senegal since April 2012. Photo: Holly Pickett/Oxfam

This year, over 18 million people in the Sahel region of West Africa were affected by a severe food crisis caused by drought, a failure of several crops, and sharp rises in food prices. The lives of over 1 million children were at risk from severe malnutrition. Communities across the Sahel suffered (and malnutrition rates remain dangerously high) but a major humanitarian operation, acting earlier than ever before, managed to protect the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.

Oxfam played a major part in this effort. We provided urgently needed assistance to over 1 million people throughout the year. Over 600,000 of our supporters worldwide joined us in campaigning to raise the alarm and to mobilize the international community into action.

At the end of 2012, good rainfall and better harvests have provided some relief. Cereal production is 13 percent higher than last year, but this does not mean the crisis is over. Food prices remain high and many farmers were unable to take advantage of the better rains to plant their crops. Malnutrition rates for children remain above emergency levels in many parts of the region. Millions of people still require sustained support to recover from the crisis, to rebuild their assets and livelihoods, and to be able to support their families.

As well as dealing with the immediate challenges of helping people recover, we need to work together to tackle the underlying causes of food crises in the Sahel. Even when the harvests are good, 230,000 children die of malnutrition-related causes each year. Oxfam is dedicated to supporting small-scale farmers so they can produce more food, supporting the incomes of the poorest people through cash-for-work programs, and building systems of food reserves. These are just some of ways we can help to build the resilience of communities to future shocks, and avoid crises in the future.

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