26 September 2012

West Africa: Oxfam Reaction to the High-Level Meeting in New York On Sahel

Photo: ONU/Mark Garten
The United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon (file photo).

press release

On the proposed ECOWAS force to Mali:

Mamadou Biteye Oxfam's West Africa Regional Director said :

"In a region still in the midst of a serious food crisis, aid agencies are already trying to support 1.6 million people affected by insecurity in the north of Mali, as well as hundreds of thousands of others who have already fled abroad. Further fighting risks increasing humanitarian needs and forcing even more people to leave their homes. At the same time, any intensification of conflict could make it even more difficult for communities to access the aid they need.

"There is a major risk that military operations in northern Mali would make an already fragile humanitarian situation much worse. At a minimum, if such an operation is launched, all necessary steps must be taken to prevent civilian casualties and ensure respect for international humanitarian and human rights law."

On the long-term challenges for the region:

Sally Chin, Head of Oxfam's New York office said:

"Sustainable peace and prosperity in the Sahel mean tackling the conditions of chronic poverty, hunger and exclusion - not just tackling harder security threats through the narrow lens of counter-terrorism.

"This year a potent cocktail of conflict, displacement and food crisis has led to widespread humanitarian suffering across the region.

Insecurity and political unrest in Mali turned into a refugee emergency with over 400.000 people forced to flee their homes. Today tens of thousands are still living in camps with no intention of returning any time soon. The refugee response is only 22% funded. Their plight must be addressed and funding the refugee response ought to be first on the to-do list.

"At the same time, the Sahel region of West and Central Africa has just been through a food crisis leaving over 18 million in no less than 9 countries hungry for months. The fragile recovery that we are starting to see now with the arrival of this year's harvests is only the beginning of what needs to be a sustained effort to address the chronic hunger that millions of people in the region face every year.

"Even in a 'good' year, around 20% of people living in the Sahel suffer from hunger. The recurrence of food crises is simply unacceptable: the region is locked into a permanent emergency and leaders must find long-term solutions to this chronic problem.

"They must reverse decades of under-investment in poor farmers to boost food production, establish food reserves and social protection schemes to help people cope when crises strike, and invest in adapting to climate change.

"As a new report released today shows, the impact of climate change on agriculture, livestock and fisheries may already be costing West Africa over $700 million per year, and is set to rise to over $2.2 billion per year by 2030. Fighting hunger in the Sahel also means tackling climate change, and fast."

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