A year after the international community launched a massive humanitarian response to the food and nutritional crisis affecting millions across the Sahel region of Africa, leaders of humanitarian agencies, government representatives from affected countries and major donors met in Rome to review the effectiveness of their assistance.
The large-scale response – providing US$1,2 billion (about ZAR 11 billion) in assistance to around 10 million people across eight countries – helped avert a humanitarian catastrophe. However, millions of people in the region are still affected by drought, with close to 1,5 million children under the age of five at risk of severe acute malnutrition.
“This year, some nine million people across the Sahel will still require food assistance from WFP, through emergency food assistance, rural development, nutrition and education activities,” said Ertharin Cousin, World Food Programme (WFP) executive director. “Boosting food security and building resilience is at the centre of our efforts to change the pattern of recurring drought and continue towards a better future.”
While crop prospects are currently encouraging, there is a high risk of future shocks, due to increased rates of poverty and undernourishment, extreme weather, environmental degradation, low investment in agriculture, high prices and vulnerability to market volatility.
Conflict in Mali has triggered widespread displacement in the region, uprooting half a million people and placing pressure on communities still recovering from drought.
“Even if we got the emergency response right overall last year, our long-term agenda needs to be focused on strengthening the coping capacity of communities and countries,” said Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for International Co-operation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response (ECHO). She highlighted the four key points of early action taken by governments in the region, agencies and donors; a multi-sectoral response; targeting the most vulnerable and building resilience.
“The focus of the UN strategy for the Sahel is on the region’s people, to help them address the root causes of instability with special emphasis on marginalised communities. My role is to bring the best minds and all the resources possible around key long-term development issues critically affecting people,” said Romano Prodi, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Sahel.
A short documentary film, “The Human Chain,” produced by WFP and ECHO, had its first public screening at the Rome meeting. The film, which chronicles the humanitarian response to last year’s Sahel crisis, illustrates various forms of assistance – including cash and vouchers, special nutrition programmes to prevent severe cases of malnutrition as well as support for smallholder farmers to improve self-reliance in difficult climatic and economic conditions.
Participants included senior leadership of the UN’s WFP, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department, joined by senior representatives from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) , the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Executive Director of Action Contre la Faim (ACF), representatives of the African Union (AU), Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) and representation from donor governments.