DAKAR (AlertNet) – A huge shortfall in funding for responding to an unfolding food crisis in West Africa is putting millions of lives at risk, a coalition of aid agencies warned on Monday.
The United Nations says around 15.6 million people across nine countries – Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad as well as northern parts of Nigeria and Cameroon - are already hit by food insecurity, due to a mix of drought, insect infestations and high food prices.
Over one million children are threatened with severe acute malnutrition and about 1.9 million children under five years are expected to suffer moderate acute malnutrition.
Although the governments of the countries concerned, the United Nations and aid agencies have been warning of the crisis since last year, donor response has not matched needs.
Four charities - Action Against Hunger, Oxfam, Save the Children and World Vision – say collectively they have only secured about a fifth of the funding they need to provide emergency assistance.
Nearly $250 million is needed by the four agencies to reach 6 million people, but only $52 million has been raised so far, they said in a joint statement.
This shortfall is equivalent to over 2 million people being deprived of life-saving assistance, they added, warning that if funding doesn’t improve they will likely have to make significant cutbacks in their aid programmes.
“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,” said Jeremy Stoner, Save the Children’s West Africa Director.
The United Nations has also been hit by the funding crisis, raising less than half of the projected $724 million required to tackle the crisis.
“It is hard to convince people (donors) that it is best to act before a slow burning crisis like food shortages reaches its peak. People tend to react only after seeing images of emaciated bodies on TV and that is unfortunate,” said Eric Hazard, Oxfam’s economic justice manager for West Africa told AlertNet.
The situation is compounded by the fact that many donor countries have been hit by economic problems of their own, Hazard said.
The aid groups warned that the funding gap was likely to grow further as the situation deteriorates and more money is required. It is urging the United Nations to call for a pledging conference to rally wealthy governments and donors to dig into their pockets.
It also wants the G8 group of world’s most industrialised nations to include tackling malnutrition in West and Central Africa in their discussions when they meet in the United States next month.
Aid agencies say they are seeing increasing levels of malnutrition across West Africa’s Sahel region, the semi-arid area that runs south of the Sahara desert.
“Some families are resorting to eating wild leaves, others are barely able to feed children one meal a day,” said Chris Palusky, World Vision’s response manager. “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," he added.