Five things you need to know about the Sahel

Source: OCHA

The Sahel region is facing its worst food and nutrition crisis in years. Millions of people in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal are struggling with hunger and malnutrition.

The lean season is also known as the ‘hunger months’, meaning food scarcity, epidemics and malnutrition. This year, it started as early as March in some areas and will last until September. But if the worst affected communities don’t receive assistance now, they will struggle to survive for months to come.

Here are five things you need to know about the Sahel crisis:

1. Six countries have been hit by an exceptional drought.

Poor rainfall in 2017 in parts of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal has sparked acute pasture and water shortages, raised food costs and caused livestock prices to plummet. The effects have destabilized the livelihoods of millions of people.

2. Pastoralists and their livestock are struggling to survive.

Lack of water and fodder has pushed millions of pastoralists on the Sahel transhumance routes many months earlier than in normal years. Walking hundreds of kilometers and often across borders, herders and cattle are extremely vulnerable. Weak animals are concentrating in scarce water and grazing land, meaning animal pests are quickly spreading. Resources in host communities are thinly stretched and often insufficient, and conflicts between farmers and herders are increasing.

3. Nearly six million people are struggling with hunger.

Across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal, almost 6 million people need urgent food and livelihoods assistance to survive the lean season. Affected communities have already exhausted their food reserves, and first harvests are only expected in September. Families are cutting down on meals, withdrawing children from school and going without essential health treatment to save money for food.

4. One child in six faces life-threatening malnutrition.

Global malnutrition levels exceed the emergency threshold in many zones across the Sahel region. Up to 1.6 million children under age 5 could suffer from severe acute malnutrition and require urgent treatment to survive. This means that one in six children across the six countries risks lasting damage to their lives, health and development.

5. Humanitarian aid is scaling up but remains critically underfunded.

Regional, national and local partners stand ready to match exceptional needs. UN agencies and NGOs have drawn on internal advances and early donor funding to scale up the response to the emerging needs, prioritized operations and supported national authorities to develop targeted response plans across the region. But these plans remain critically underfunded.

The UN and NGO partners have appealed for US$1.37 billion to adequately respond to the most urgent needs of 13.4 million people in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Senegal. But almost halfway through the year, only 26 per cent of the plans have been funded.

In May, the Central Emergency Response Fund allocated $30 million for the rapid response to the Sahel emergency. More solidarity from the international community is urgently required to ensure a timely response to mitigate the impact of the lean season.

Without immediate assistance, thousands of lives will be at risk and the livelihoods of entire communities destroyed, deepening misery and adding momentum to the cycle of adversity in the Sahel.

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