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Scottish aid worker issues stark warning on Sahel: Food crisis turning to catastrophe

Posted by Lindsay Clydesdale Campaigns Press Officer, Scotland

18th Jun 2012

A Scottish aid worker is calling for the world to wake up to the scale of the food crisis in West Africa and for the UK to increase its contribution to the appeal fund.

David MacDonald, from Renfrew, is Deputy Director of Oxfam's West Africa programme where almost 19 million people face chronic food shortages.

He says the crisis across the Sahel region of West and Central Africa is at tipping point.

Speaking from Senegal, one of the affected countries, David MacDonald, said: "Since late last year we have been warning of a massive food crisis in the Sahel. Now that crisis is here. It is very real, and things are set to get much worse.

"It stretches across a region as wide as the US, and means that one million children are not getting enough food to live on - their lives are in the balance."

On Monday (June 18), donor governments will meet in Brussels to discuss the crisis in what has emerged as a key opportunity to prevent millions of deaths.

The UN has appealed for £1 billion of emergency funds to protect populations most in need but this is currently underfunded by more than £400 million.

As a result, Oxfam issued a 'Red Alert' last week asking international donors to pay their fair share of the appeal total - relative to the size of their economy.

In recent days the UK Government pledged an extra £10 million in funding. Whilst this is welcome, it is still £10 million short of the UK's 'fair share'.

Oxfam is urging International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell MP to commit the extra money, and is calling for Japan, France and the US to pay their fair share too.

David MacDonald added: "Some donors have already given generously, including the European Union and the UK. For that we are grateful and we are not ignoring their commitments.

"However, the UK Government should commit a further £10m now to ensure it pays a 'fair share' to the United Nations' appeal, relative to the size of the UK economy.

"We are standing on the brink of catastrophe - but we can act.

"How many people have to suffer how many times before we break the cycle of hunger? We cannot prevent drought - but we can prevent food crises."

Oxfam has been warning of an impending food crisis since the end of 2011. Drought, rising food prices, poor harvests and conflict are the underlying reasons.

The countries most affected are Mauritania, Mali, Niger, the Gambia, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Chad. As the lean season approaches - the months of most acute hunger before the next harvests in September and October - the situation is very grave.

Oxfam stands ready to address the immediate needs of the most vulnerable people if funds are put in place. The global charity aims to reach around 1.2 million people across six countries with life-saving humanitarian aid.

Notes to editors:

An Oxfam 'Red Alert' is launched only occasionally, when there is a situation where lives are at risk and where there is an opportunity for the people in the UK to influence how our government responds.

It is estimated that some 19 million people in the Sahel region are food insecure, with more than six million severely food insecure.

An estimated 645,000 children die in Sahel every year, with an estimated 300,000 of these deaths being directly linked to malnutrition.

Some of the causes of the food crisis:

  • Agricultural production in the region is down 26% from 2010.
  • In the Sahel, food accounts for 80% of expenditure of vulnerable groups.
  • Prices of corn in the Sahel are 60% to 85% higher than the last five years average.

Almost all donor countries should contribute more, relative to the size of their economy, with only Luxembourg, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Ireland, Canada, Norway and Australia having met their fair share.

High res images:
David MacDonald

Sahel 1 - Crops fail (Mauritania)

Sahel 2 - A family's food for a week is contained in this sack (Northern Chad)

Sahel 3 - Drought (Northern Chad)

For more information or more images contact Lindsay Clydesdale, Oxfam Scotland Media Officer, on 0141 285 8875 or 07766 725595 or Jamie Livingstone, Oxfam Scotland Communications Manager on 0141 285 8854 or 07803 970489.

Blog post written by Lindsay Clydesdale

Campaigns Press Officer, Scotland

More by Lindsay Clydesdale