Last summer our TV screens were filled with pictures of malnourished children in East Africa and the heart-breaking stories of their families struggling to feed themselves.
Now history looks set to repeat itself in the Sahel belt of West Africa. Despite early warnings and responses from aid agencies such as Action Against Hunger, millions of families have been plunged into a devastating food crisis.
Families like Ali Assama’s are in urgent need of assistance. Her eight-month-old son Ousmane was critically ill and close to dying when they reached our therapeutic feeding centre in Chad. He weighed just eight pounds – the same as a new born baby, when he arrived. Luckily he is now receiving the treatment he needs and is on the road to recovery.
Our teams warned of the looming crisis in the Sahel months ago yet not enough has been done. One million children, like Ousmane, now face starvation and yet aid organisations like Action Against Hunger continue to face severe shortages in funding.
Conditions are harsh in the Sahel. The vast majority of communities are farmers and herders. For these families prolonged drought can be deadly and 2012 is proving to be a particularly harsh year due to low and uneven rainfall across the region.
When climatic shocks affect the region, many of the poorest families are unable to cope as they have few reserves or other options to turn to. In many cases, this is because the families are still recovering from previous droughts and haven’t had a chance to rebuild their reserves. They are therefore often forced to sell their livestock and household assets and reduce their daily intake of food. We are hearing disturbing reports from our teams that some families are eating wild roots and shrubs to survive.
Conflict in northern Mali is exacerbating the crisis, with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing their homes to southern Mali and neighbouring countries, putting even further strain on communities already struggling through the crisis.
Our teams are alarmed by the growing numbers of malnourished children arriving at our feeding centres. In Chad alone, admission rates are triple what they were at the same time last year.
Thanks to early warning systems, our teams on the ground have been implementing emergency relief efforts to diagnose and treat children since early 2012, whilst building the resilience of communities to future climatic shocks.
However we are still in urgent need of funding. The worry is that this will only come when the situation once again hits catastrophic levels and the world’s media fills our screens with images of starving children.
We need to act now to reach more children like Ousmane before it is too late.
This article is an extract from the latest edition of Hunger Matters, our annual publication providing stories, image galleries and analysis of our work across the world. Click here to view the latest edition.
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