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$2 billion in aid requested for the starving in the Sahel

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 4th, 2014
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The United Nations has appealed for $2 billion in order to feed and care for a record 20 million people across Africa's Sahel belt. War and political instability in the nations of Mali, Nigeria, Sudan and Central African Republic has created food shortages across the Sahel. The area already suffers regular droughts and cyclical floods, as well as locust infestations and epidemics.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Donors are being urged to tackle a deteriorating humanitarian situation. Never stable to begin with, the Sahel region has seen its food insecurity double in a year.

Officials say that Over 1.6 million people have abandoned their homes. Half of those have sought refuge in impoverished countries throughout the savannah region that are already struggling to look after their own populations, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA reports.

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"This year is make or break for the Sahel. Donors have to show more ambition than in previous years to fund the Sahel. We have to work fast because if we don't, the cycle of drought that is reality for the Sahel will catch up with us. It's a race against time," Robert Piper, the U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel says.

Food insecurity, which is defined as the measure of hunger within a population due to conflict or climate spread across the Sahel last year. Funding for this new appeal may fall short because of the slow global economic recovery and competing demands on donor resources.

Donors met just 63 percent of the $1.7 billion Sahel U.N. appeal last year.

The European Union's humanitarian arm, ECHO spent 300 million Euros above its 1 billion euro budget in 2013, in an attempt to respond to several humanitarian crises, according to the French newspaper Le Monde. The newspaper added that the arm was struggling to fund its aid partners on the ground.

"We don't have the luxury of planning emergencies. We had a temporary cash flow problem, but this has now been resolved," David Sharrock, ECHO spokesman says. 

A new three-year strategy is now in effect to ensure donor resources are spent on humanitarian action that has a longer lasting impact.

"It's a shift in recognizing that our responsibility as humanitarians goes beyond saving lives today. People can legitimately ask us what are you doing about next year's food shortages, and that wasn't the case before," Piper says.  

"It's the year we see if we can translate theory into practice and start bringing aid workers together to work with national governments and reverse these trends that have been deteriorating year after year," Piper says.

Three of the nine Sahel countries that stretch west to east across Africa represented 40 percent of the food insecurity in the region and each presented different challenges.

Nigeria has high rates of malnutrition. An Islamist insurgency and a crackdown by the military there have exacerbated hunger and make it harder to address.

In Senegal and Cameroon, there are similar food shortages as a result of poor rainfall and floods. The countries are at peace but the government rates confronting food insecurity as a low priority, Piper said.

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