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West Africa Food Crisis Threatens Over 18 Million People

West Africa Food Crisis Threatens Over 18 Million People

Fatimata Sawadogo has just won gold, but there'll be no ceremony, no podium and no medals. Instead, the gold she's worked for days to find, digging in the bare soil near her village in Burkina Faso, will buy a little bit of food for Fatimata and her children. The world might not be watching, but in a time of extreme hunger, finding this gold is still a victory.

"They say that I'll get 2,000 CFA francs [about $4.60] for my gold," says Fatimata. "It's such a joy not to have worked for nothing."

Oxfam has launched the West Africa Food Crisis Appeal to scale up its response in the Sahel region. The agency is supporting communities, like Fatimata's, with vital aid such as food, cash, water, livestock support, sanitation and hygiene training. Donations from the public up to a total of $97,000 will be matched by the New Zealand Government.

"Drought is inevitable, but hunger is man-made - and so are the solutions. With the proper response now, and investment in the long-term resilience of communities, we can break this cycle of extreme hunger, and save lives," said Barry Coates, Oxfam New Zealand's Executive Director.

Across Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal malnutrition rates hover between 10 and 15 per cent, and in some areas have exceeded the 15 per cent rate considered the threshold for an official emergency situation. Over 1 million children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition.

"Last year I witnessed first-hand the situation in the Horn of Africa and the difference the generosity of everyday Kiwis helped achieve: access to life-saving clean water and sanitation; malnourished children fed and returned to health; people who were paid for their work, injecting cash back into economies; and families assisted in surviving not only the immediate crisis, but in building resilience to future ones," said Coates.

"Now the people of the Sahel need our help. The worst can be avoided and thousands of lives will be saved if we act now. It's that simple."

Oxfam said a lethal mix of drought, rocketing food prices, entrenched poverty and regional conflict is behind the food crisis, affecting around 18 million people in West Africa.

Across the region, food prices are higher by 25 to 60 per cent compared with the last five years' average, and prices could still increase in the light of extreme weather conditions across grain producing areas of the US, Russia and India.

In the Sahel zone, erratic rains have caused a poor harvest especially in Niger, Chad, Mauritania, Mali and Burkina Faso. Added to this people have had little time to recover from the food crisis of 2010. An increase in the frequency and severity of food crises in the Sahel region in the last decade is taking its toll.

In Mauritania 700,000 people, nearly a quarter of all families, have difficulty meeting their daily food needs. In Chad, 3.6 million people, more than 30 per cent of the population, are food insecure.

Conflict in Northern Mali has forced 400,000 to flee their homes with more than half of them escaping to neighbouring countries of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. Violence in Nigeria has also caused a drop in the volume of grains entering Niger and Chad.

"Protecting communities from the current food crisis is crucial but represents only part of the battle to exit the vicious cycle of hunger," said Coates. "We must ensure the underlying causes are addressed. We need to act in the long term to reduce peoples' vulnerability and increase their resilience. Investment in long-term solutions and in small-scale agriculture is vital," he added.

To donate to Oxfam's West Africa Food Crisis Appeal, please call 0800 400 666 or visit

* $22 can help reach out with emergency food relief * $36 can help construct new water wells and service existing ones so people have access to clean, safe water * $50 can help deliver agricultural and animal health support to farmers, equipping them with the tools they need to survive this crisis * $107 can provide five families with hygiene kits, helping to protect them from disease


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