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An incredible opportunity to right wrongs in West Africa

Posted by David MacDonald Deputy Regional Director, West Africa

18th Jun 2012

In a world where there is enough food for everyone it is wrong that in Chad a mother has to dig up an anthill to look for grain so that she can cook a meal for her children.

It is wrong that one in seven people globally go to bed hungry; and it is wrong that 19 million people in the Sahel region of west and central Africa don't know where their next decent meal is coming from.

Governments are meeting in Brussels today to discuss the food crisis in the Sahel, they have an incredible opportunity to start to right this wrong.

They can do that by pledging money that will be used to address not only the current humanitarian crisis, but the underlying causes of chronic food shortages in an extremely vulnerable part of the world.

Since late last year we have been warning of a massive food crisis in the Sahel.

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

Drought, rising food prices, poor harvests and conflict are the underlying reasons.

Now that crisis is here. It is very real, and things are set to get much worse.

There is no end in sight to rising food prices, and families have nothing to fall back on.

Food stocks have been exhausted and people are literally being priced out of the food market.

If we don't get aid to these people they will struggle to survive as we enter the worst months of the lean season - the months of the most acute hunger before the next harvests in September and October.

In this region it is true that unreliable rainfall and recurring drought cause repeated food crises; but that doesn't mean that we stop caring. There is no logic in that reasoning.

With every crisis, the ability of local communities to recover and prepare for future challenges is diminished. At Oxfam we deal with the reality on the ground when and where we find it. 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.

Here in the Sahel food markets are failing to cope, and a chronic lack of investment in agriculture to help farmers deal with the impact of unreliable rainfall mean that food prices keep rising and more and more people are going hungry.

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

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 Nation's appeal, relative to the size of the UK economy.

International agencies started the response to the crisis in the Sahel this year earlier than in the past, and have already helped millions of people.

But we have to measure our actions against the reality, and the injustices of hunger in the 21st century still exist - that is the reality we are operating in.

There is no room for complacency - we must always strive to do better: women should no longer need to search for food in anthills so they can feed their children.

We need governments meeting in Brussels to mobilise resources now; to respond in the short-term to the current humanitarian crisis, and in the long-term to commit to a vision of how to help stop future crises in the Sahel.

At Oxfam we believe that such a vision must include investing in agriculture in ways that benefit small-scale farmers, especially women, helping them to grow more food and earn more money for their families in good years and bad.

Add your voice to Oxfam's 'Red Alert' on Sahel

Blog post written by David MacDonald

Deputy Regional Director, West Africa

More by David MacDonald