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UN agencies urge greater support to fight mounting hunger crisis in Africa's Sahel region

25 July 2014 – Two United Nations agencies today urged the international donor community to renew its commitment to fight hunger and food insecurity in the Sahel by strengthening the resilience of destitute families in the region.

Terrorism, weak governance and recurrent droughts in Africa's Sahel have only exacerbated the food insecurity crisis in the region, officials from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a joint statement.

"If we are going to break out of this cycle of chronic crises across the Sahel region, emergency assistance to vulnerable farmers and pastoralists has to be considered a top priority," said Robert Piper, the UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel. "The best way to reduce tomorrow's emergency caseload is to help households protect their assets today," he added.

In February, FAO appealed to donors for $116 million to assist more than 7.5 million vulnerable people in the Sahel. To date, only $16 million, or less than 14 per cent, have been received. That staggering funding gap of $100 million is severely hampering the fight against hunger.

"Due to funding gaps, interventions that could prevent the food security situation from worsening are delayed and the capacities of vulnerable communities to cope with repeated shocks are deteriorating," said Bukar Tijani, FAO's Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa.

"More should be done to protect the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable communities in a region that is so frequently affected by various shocks," he urged.

Refugees fleeing ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic and Nigeria are seeking shelter in neighbouring countries and require urgent food assistance. Even more alarming, the FAO said, the rainy season has so far been patchy, with below-average precipitation registered in parts of the region, delaying planting activities in Senegal and Chad. To meet refugee needs, host families are using their own food reserves, which are already limited.

Recent clashes in northern Mali have also generated new displacements to the south of the country as well as to neighbouring countries. Refugees are fleeing with their cattle, putting additional pressure on natural resources and cultivated areas, thus increasing the risk of conflict between communities. Poor rural households are often faced with very difficult decisions namely to sell their only assets, reduce the number of meals or take children out of school.

"With timely donor support, FAO still can prevent further degradation of livelihoods and missed planting opportunities for many vulnerable communities, while at the same time strengthening their resilience with longer-term interventions," Mr. Tijani said.

This year the UN and its humanitarian partners launched an ambitious three-year Regional Strategic Response Plan for the Sahel to support resilience over the longer term by tackling the root causes of hunger. The plan also includes scaling-up measures to meet the immediate food security and nutritional needs of the hungry. Funds, however, are desperately needed to carry out this plan.

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