Thanks to the success of the early warning system and aid agencies’ early intervention, a famine has been avoided in North and West Africa. There has been rain, and crops are growing again.
However, the crisis is not over. And the public should not forget about the Sahel, a swath of eight countries that stretches from Senegal in the west to Chad in the east.
The Canadian government and ordinary citizens should continue to support humanitarian efforts to deliver food to the more than 19 million women, children and families who face food shortages in these countries, as well as in Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Gambia and northern Cameroon.
“Crops are growing but people are still going hungry because the harvest isn’t yet in. Without continued assistance, the crops will be taken off early and that will compromise next year’s season,” said Jim Cornelius, executive director of Canadian Foodgrains Bank.
The resilience of many communities to drought has been eroded over the years as they already suffer from extreme poverty. Soil is poor-quality in many areas, and food prices are high. Millions of chronically malnourished children suffer from stunting.
The situation is made worse by the conflict in Mali. The takeover by Islamists in the northern part of the country has displaced more than 400,000 people, making aid delivery more challenging.
The Canadian government has contributed $57.5-million to help those affected by the food crisis. And Julian Fantino, the Minister of International Co-operation, deserves credit for his trip to the Sahel last month, along with Mr. Cornelius and several other Canadian aid groups. But Canadian citizens have only donated $1.8-million to Ottawa’s matching fund – a drop in the bucket compared with the more than $30-million donated last year to help those affected by famine in East Africa.
Without a full-scale emergency, it is more difficult to convey a sense of urgency. But the Sahel needs not only food aid, but also support for development projects aimed at agricultural adaptation, protection of water sources and promotion of drought-resistant crops. Without agricultural sustainability in countries such as Burkina Faso and Mali, they will remain vulnerable, and the cycle of drought and food shortages is destined to be repeated.