In Baaba Maal’s new role as Oxfam Ambassador he urged the world to respond to the food crisis in West and Central Africa before it is too late, having just returned from visiting communities in Senegal.
Baaba Maal said: "In February I traveled to Mauritania with Oxfam and was shocked by how bad things were. But I have just returned from a neighboring region of Senegal and found that already things are so much worse. As well as the acute lack of food, we saw children struggling to find water to drink. Everywhere is dry, wells have dried up and dead animals are littered everywhere.”
Approximately 18 million people are threatened by this year’s food crisis in the Sahel region of West and Central Africa, 850,000 of whom live in Baaba Maal’s home country of Senegal. And in the area of Matam visited by the musician, the effects of drought have hit hard.
The food crisis, which was brought about by low rainfall, poor harvests, a lack of pasture and rising food prices, is only set to escalate. The region is also dealing with more than 320,000 displaced people who have been forced to leave their homes as a result of conflict in Mali. About 160,000 of these are seeking refuge in Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger – countries where communities are already struggling to find enough to eat.
Oxfam’s Regional Campaigns and Policy Manager, Steve Cockburn, said: "The UN is now saying that up to $1.5 billion could be needed to prevent the situation in West and Central Africa from turning into a catastrophe. Some donors have been responding positively, but we still only have about half the funding we need. The money could make a huge difference, but is needed now."
The UN estimates that six million people are already living in severe food insecurity across the region, and that one million children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition.
Claire Lewis, Oxfam Global Ambassador Program Manager said: "We are so fortunate to have Baaba Maal as an Oxfam Global Ambassador speaking out on this crisis. He is hugely respected as an artist, both in Africa and across the world, and we hope that his words will help to galvanise governments into action."
Baaba Maal, who last week held a concert in Matam, Northern Senegal, with funds raised going to the Sahel appeal said: "I am truly honored to be taking up the role of Oxfam Global Ambassador having seen the work that Oxfam is doing in West and Central Africa to try to avert this crisis. I will continue to add my voice to their call for urgent response to the food crisis in the region. Nobody should die from hunger in the 21st century."