Aid agencies, amongst them the World Food Organisation (WFO) are gearing up for a second year of emergency response in the Sahel Region, where an estimated 10.3 million people could be affected by food shortages, according to the UN (pdf). Despite rains in 2012 leading to a good harvest in October-November, deficits incurred during last year’s food crisis means the poorest families have not been able to replenish their stocks and pay off debts. The situation this year is exacerbated by a lower than expected harvest in Nigeria (pdf), which produces a lot of the grain consumed in the Sahel – prices have shot up. The crisis in Mali has prevented thousands of families there from planting at all. “We can say there is a crisis already, just by the number of cases of malnutrition which we’re dealing with in hospitals from Chad to Burkina Faso to Mali,” said Alvaro Pascual, Sahel desk officer for Action Against Hunger. Although fewer people are affected than last year, when about 18 million people were at risk of food shortages, Action Against Hunger estimates that 1.4 million under-fives could have severe acute malnutrition, which usually requires hospital treatment.
The problems are consistent with what some humanitarians call a crisis of resilience – there have been three serious food crises since 2005, meaning people simply cannot absorb any more shocks. With a drought in 2009 and subsequent hunger in 2010, some families lost up to half their animals, ate their emergency stocks and borrowed money to cover the cost of buying food on the market.