accessibility & help

British Red Cross launches West Africa Food Crisis Appeal

Agro-pastoralist in Tin Akof, northern Burkina Faso© Info

16 March 2012

To help stem the worsening food crisis across west Africa, the British Red Cross has launched its West Africa Food Crisis Appeal. More than 13 million people face severe food shortages in parts of Niger, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Senegal.

The Red Cross has worked in west Africa for many years. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has recently received £1 million from the UK government’s Department for International Development towards its work in the region.

Additional stress of food security

Many communities in the Sahel region of west Africa are dependent on rain-fed agriculture or pasture for their livestock. However, erratic rainfall, droughts and insect infestations have led to poor harvests and difficult conditions for livestock.

Last year’s conflict in Libya has meant that many west African migrant workers were forced to return home, or were no longer able to send home remittances. High food prices and regional insecurity have made matters worse.

In Mali, armed confrontations have forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes in destitution, seeking refuge either within Mali or in neighbouring countries. Many people have gone to the northern Tillabéry region of Niger, one of the areas hardest hit by the food crisis and the scene of recent inter-community violence.

The ICRC is one of the only agencies able to help people in areas of conflict in Mali and Niger.

A downward spiral

Malnutrition rates in west Africa are rising and the hunger season – which usually starts around May – has come early. Some communities began facing shortages soon after 2011’s harvest, and there are still months to go before the next harvest in August.

Mary Atkinson, British Red Cross food security advisor, said: “For people in west Africa, the annual hunger season is a fact of life. But, this year, it is tougher – people have produced less food, food prices are higher, and people have less income from remittances and selling their livestock. People have not yet recovered from the last serious food crisis in 2010, so they have less means to withstand additional stresses like conflict or poor harvests.

“Not having enough food makes people – particularly young children – more susceptible to malnutrition and ill health, and raises the risk of death. Being unwell and lacking sufficient energy makes it harder to make a living.

“All these factors mean that people’s food security is held in very fine balance. Sometimes all it takes is an extra pressure on the system to tip a routinely difficult time of year into a disaster.”

Not too late

The Red Cross is already working in the affected countries, but more funds are needed to stop the crisis worsening. Action now – before the peak of the crisis in the summer – will save lives.

Acting before the peak of the crisis also helps donations to go further. During the 2004-5 drought in the Sahel, the UN calculated that 1 dollar could have been spent to prevent a child becoming malnourished, whereas it actually cost 80 dollars a day to treat a malnourished child.

Barry Armstrong, disaster response manager, said: “By acting now to mitigate this crisis, we can prevent this becoming a disaster of the scale we have seen too often in previous years. We cannot wait for the crisis in west Africa to deepen”.

The West Africa Food Crisis Appeal will cover numerous countries including those currently affected and those potentially affected in the future. In the unlikely event that we raise more money than can be reasonably and efficiently spent, any surplus funds will be used to help us prepare for and respond to other humanitarian disasters anywhere in the world.

Donate to our West Africa Food Crisis Appeal