August 16 2012 - Christian Aid is escalating its appeal for funds to tackle the food crisis in the Sahel region of West Africa amid reports that the situation is deteriorating fast.
Photo: Christian Aid/Tom Pilston
The World Food Programme has warned that without new funding, food aid for nearly 250,000 Malian refugees in Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger and other neighbouring states will run out in weeks.
A Christian Aid appeal running since March this year which has raised some £475,000 for the region has helped more than 175,000 people. Now supporters and major donors are being asked to give more.
Christian Aid’s head of humanitarian operations Nick Guttmann said today: ‘There are 19 million people across the Sahel who are in dire need. More than a million children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition and an estimated three million are at risk of moderate acute malnutrition.
‘Increasing numbers are entirely dependent on food aid for survival, particularly refugees who have fled from the conflict in Mali to neighbouring states, and people displaced within Mali itself.
‘This is traditionally a lean time in that part of the world The first rains have come and new crops have been planted, but because last year’s harvest was so poor due to the drought, even those who are not affected by conflict have nothing to tide them over.’
Price increases mean that the food which is available is beyond the reach of those who need it most. Flash floods in some areas have also destroyed crops, stores and homes.
Working through local partner organisations, Christian Aid support has so far included:
• Distributing rice and cereal to some of the 4.6 million in need in Mali, including those displaced by conflict and others already suffering shortages.
• Providing food and nutrition training to pregnant women and mothers of malnourished children in northern Niger.
• Supplying improved seeds to communities in Burkina Faso to help them grow food despite the drought.
Working through Norwegian Church Aid (an ACT Alliance partner), Christian Aid has also provided £50,000 for the supply of food to people in remote villages in the northern region now in rebel hands.
Several shipments of food have been sent from the south to the town of Gao by pinasse – long wooden cargo boats on the Niger River – where it is taken by lorry to distribution points, with donkey carts completing the last part of the journey.
Christian Aid is also working with fellow NGOs in the Sahel Working Group (SWG), lobbying international bodies to release sufficient funds to tackle the crisis.
On a fact-finding mission to Mali last week, Christian Aid head of media Andrew Hogg visited Konna, one of the northernmost towns in Mali still in government hands, where several families a day still cross from the rebel area, often with nothing but the clothes they stand up in.
Some have been forced out by insurgents, others have left through fear. Sexual abuse of women has reportedly been widespread, while men suspected of being members of the military have been taken away and not seen again.
Christian Aid partner GRAT (Groupe de Recherche et d'Applications Techniques) is focusing distribution on the most vulnerable, with some 50 tonnes of rice and cereal, and 10 tonnes of seed going to the internally displaced, and to host families.
A few kilometres in a suburb of the town of Sevare Mayor Zeine Diallo said: ‘Many people are facing real starvation here. Rice and seed had been distributed to the most needy, but another 800 tonnes of rice are needed.’
Further east, outside the town of Bandiagara, not long ago a favourite tourist spot for visits to the Dogon people, the threat of the insurgency is of less concern than simply surviving the present food shortages.
One village elder Djougal Tapily (pictured: top of release) , aged 70, survives with his wife and their family of six on millet supplied by Christian Aid partner Action Promotion Humanitarian (APH). A small breakfast bowl of the cereal uncooked is the daily allowance for two adults.
‘It keeps us alive but it is not enough. We are always hungry, but we have to manage what we have. Underneath my shirt I am very thin,’ he said ‘Usually it is only this bad if the locusts come,
I spend all my time worrying about how the family will be fed.’
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Notes to Editors:
1. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in nearly 50 countries. We act where the need is greatest, regardless of religion, helping people build the lives they deserve.
2. Christian Aid has a vision, an end to global poverty, and we believe that vision can become a reality. Our report, Poverty Over, explains what we believe needs to be done – and can be done – to end poverty. Details at http://www.christianaid.org.uk/Images/poverty-over-report.pdf
3. Christian Aid is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of 100 churches and church-related organisations that work together in humanitarian assistance and development. Further details at http://www.actalliance.org
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