West Africa Hunger Crisis Worsening, Threatening Millions Across Region

A hunger crisis is rapidly spreading across several West African countries with some estimates suggesting that more than 6 million people are slated to face famine conditions within months.

The food crisis is impacting the people of Niger, Mali, Chad and Mauritania in West Africa's Sahel region. The food crisis is being caused by drought, escalating food prices and poor harvests and experts have expressed concern that the crisis could spread to neighboring Burkina Faso and Senegal.

Food production in the region has dropped significantly, with production of national staples in countries such as Chad and Mauritania falling as much as 50 percent, according to Oxfam International.

Humanitarian agencies, such as Christian Aid, Save the Children, Oxfam International and Concern Worldwide, are warning that a slow response to the looming crisis could be catastrophic and point to the 2011 Horn of Africa crisis, which is still impacting 13 million people, as a case in point.

"The facts show that early intervention reduces suffering, saves more lives and costs a lot less than large-scale emergency relief operations. Early intervention can cost between seven and nine times less and yields more effective results," Concern Worldwide Director Paul O'Brien said in an organizational report.

The international humanitarian group Christian Aid, which has raised more than 1.6 million British pounds since 2010 to provide aid to people across the region by supporting feeding centers, setting up cash for work programs and providing community training on coping with shortages, has expressed concern regarding international response.

"We hope that International community, donors and government have learned from the late response to the crisis in the Horn," Cristina Ruiz, an Africa humanitarian programs manager at Christian Aid, told The Christian Post.

"There are some signs of the lessons being taken. Governments in the Sahel have already declared emergency and asked for assistance, some donors have already committed funding (U.N., CERF, ECHO, DFID) and we as NGOs and our partners have already started to respond," Ruiz added.

Christian Aid, along with partner organizations in the Sahel Working Group, are implementing early intervention responses hoping to avert an even deeper crisis by providing people with food aid, seeds, animal fodder, and cash-for-work programs.

The early response actions taken on behalf of NGOs in the region are timely as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, warned the international community on Tuesday that failure to act in West Africa would result in "major violations of the right to food."

"The world must not make the same mistakes it did in delaying its response to last year's crisis in the Horn of Africa. We have a chance, and a duty, to save lives," De Shutter said.

The numerous calls for early responses and action to the looming crisis come on the heels of a recently published briefing report produced by Oxfam and Save the Children, which outlines the effects of not responding to early warning signs to prevent famine in the Horn of Africa.

"The greatest tragedy is that the world saw this disaster coming but did not prevent it," former U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland wrote in a forward to the briefing report.

"We have the power to prevent thousands of deaths. What we need is the will," he added.

Although much of the response to the latest crisis will come from governments, NGOs and the international community, average citizens of the world have a role to play as well.

People can challenge their governments and stay informed about the issues that are impacting people worldwide to ensure that action is carried out before an issue becomes a full-scale crisis, Ruiz told CP.

"And of course they should support organizations like Christian Aid with their prayers and funding and also hold us accountable for our work," she added.