The famine in Niger made headlines all summer as thousands starved, suffered, or fled. Nearby countries like Mauritania, Chad, and Burkina Faso also faced hunger. But now voices like the UN World Food Program are sounding notes of hope:
Abundant rains in Chad have raised hopes for an end to severe food shortages but the effects will linger and lead to new difficulties across Africa’s Sahel region in 2011, aid workers predict.
With signs that neighbouring Niger has also got over the worst of a food crisis triggered by last year’s drought, the threat of all-out famine in the semi-arid Sahel zone just south of the Sahara appears to be subsiding.
“The worst has been averted and, with the prospect of a good harvest (this year), we think we should be out of an emergency situation soon,” Jean-Luc Siblot, the head of the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) in Chad, said in a phone interview.
Ten million people across the Sahel have been facing the threat of severe malnutrition until the new harvest in a few weeks time, with aid groups urging donors to plug shortfalls in emergency food supplies.
The UN and its partners are also exploring new strategies for fighting child malnutrition in the Sahel.
This year was an exceptionally bad one in the Sahel, but that does not mean that new crises will not come, and soon. Deforestation, climate change, and increasing populations make life more and more difficult in the region. Aid agencies and local governments will need effective short- and long-term strategies for dealing with a problem that may have lessened temporarily, but has not been solved permanently. I’m glad the UN is hopeful and that they’re looking toward a better future.