The United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, made headlines this week after she visited Senegal and Burkina Faso and stated, “The humanitarian situation [in the Sahel] is expected to remain critical at least until the main harvest this autumn.” The UN estimates that fifteen million people in the region do not have enough to eat; Oxfam puts the number higher, at eighteen million. The World Food Programme has called the current situation “one of the most complex and widest reaching food crises to hit the Sahel of West Africa in living memory. Whereas the 2005 and 2010 food crises hit mainly two countries – in Niger and Chad – this current crisis has hit in no less than 8 countries from Mauritania all the way to Chad.” The situation is tragic.
Here are several resources for those who want to understand the crisis more fully:
- The United States government’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) has a helpful map of the crisis in West Africa. Portions of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, and Chad are marked as “stressed” (the second level on a five-point scale) while some portions of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, and Chad are in “crisis” (the third level).
- The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs offers important coverage of the crisis. One piece emphasizes the troubled situation in northern Mali, where the ongoing rebellion has taken a major humanitarian toll. This is just the most vivid illustration of how the intersection of politics and drought can prove deadly. 3.5 million people face hunger in Mali.
- The World Food Programme has a useful Q&A on the crisis.
- Finally, this reporting from on the ground in northeastern Senegal is worth reading to get a sense of how ordinary people are experiencing the drought.