20 February 2013

West Africa: One Year On From the Sahel Crisis - a Review of the Humanitarian Response

Rome — A year after the international community launched a massive humanitarian response to the food and nutritional crisis affecting millions of people across the Sahel region of Africa, leaders of humanitarian agencies, government representatives from countries affected and major donors met today to review the effectiveness of their assistance.

The large-scale response - providing US$1.2 billion in assistance to around 10 million people across eight countries - helped to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. However, millions of people in the region are still affected by drought, with close to 1.5 million children under the age of five at risk of severe acute malnutrition.

"This year, some nine million people across the Sahel will still require food assistance from WFP, through emergency food assistance, rural development, nutrition and education activities," said Ertharin Cousin, WFP Executive Director, host of the high-level event. "Boosting food security and building resilience lies at the heart of our collective efforts to change the pattern of recurring drought and continue on the path towards a better future."

While crop prospects are currently encouraging, there is a high risk of future shocks, due to increased rates of poverty and undernourishment, extreme weather, environmental degradation, low investment in agriculture, high prices and vulnerability to market volatility. Conflict in Mali has triggered widespread displacement in the region, uprooting half a million people and placing pressure on communities still recovering from drought.

"Even if overall we got the emergency response right last year, our long-term agenda needs to be focused on strengthening the coping capacity of communities and countries," said Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, ECHO. She highlighted four key points in the response: early action taken by governments in the region, agencies and donors; a multi-sectoral response; targeting of the most vulnerable; building resilience.

"The focus of the United Nations strategy for the Sahel is on the people of the region, to help them address the root causes of instability, with special emphasis on marginalised communities," said Romano Prodi, the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy for the Sahel. "My role is to bring the best minds and all the resources possible around key long-term development issues that critically affect the peoples of the region."

A short documentary film, "The Human Chain," produced by WFP and ECHO, was given its first public screening at the Rome meeting. The film, which chronicles the humanitarian response to last year's Sahel crisis, illustrates various forms of assistance - including cash and vouchers, special nutrition programmes to prevent severe cases of malnutrition as well as support for smallholder farmers to improve their self-reliance in the face of difficult climatic and economic conditions.

Participants included: senior leadership of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department, joined by senior representatives from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) , the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Executive Director of Action Contre la Faim (ACF), representatives of the African Union (AU), Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS), a broad representation of donor governments and WFP Board members.

For more information please contact (email address: firstname.lastname@wfp.org):

Emilia Casella, WFP/Rome, Tel. +39 06 6513 3854, Mob. +39 347 9450634

Gregory Barrow, WFP/London, Tel. +44 20 72409001, Mob. +44 7968 008474

Elisabeth Byrs, WFP/Geneva, Tel. +41 22 917 8564, Mob. +41 79 473 4570

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