Over 18 million people are affected by the food crisis in the Sahel, a dry sub-Saharan belt running roughly from Chad over to Senegal. Think about it. That’s more people than the entire population of the Netherlands who are going hungry, right now.
There are currently 61,000 refugees in Burkina; added to thousands in villages along the Malian border who have a 90% deficit in cereals from harvest.
The thing is that in Burkina Faso and Niger the crisis is a double one – communities are already hungry, but the burden is greater as thousands of refugees cross from Mali.
In one month the rainy season will arrive; when that happens, all access is cut off to these communities. The pressure to get some kind of assistance in place is very much on.
Fleeing to surviveIf you were to fly over Burkina Faso in a plane you would spot, perhaps, the jigsaw of tents. You'd miss the make-shift toilets built by Plan whose staff stay up nights to try to help; you’d miss the children playing in the dust.
In April, some of these boys and girls from villages in northern Mali watched as their fathers had their throats cut. Then they fled for their lives. Amadou, 10, now in Mentao camp near Djibo, says: “I would like to return to my village, to see my friends again, but at the moment I have no idea where most of them are. I don't know where my family are either.”
Aisha, from Timbuktu, also in Mentao, says simply: “I saw my husband get shot. And seeing my husband with the blood flowing out of him, I wanted to die too.”
Anyone interested?Why does it matter, and why does it matter to you? Quite simply, because it keeps on happening; and by necessity, the more we know about it, the less acceptable it will become. Is it, as the foreign editor of The Telegraph recently told me, that “no-one is interested in West Africa, Jane...”? I don’t believe so.
I believe we should be reporting this crisis and making people interested: the public, policy makers, other kids. We should be getting people to act. Then and only then will we make the way for change.
Africa's agriculture potentialIt matters because last year, exactly the same thing happened in the Horn of Africa. The question is, why, on a continent where more than half the entire population is engaged in agriculture, does this happen again and again and again?
US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson believes it shouldn’t. He said last week, on the eve of the G8 summit: “Africa has enormous promise and potential in the agriculture field, and there is absolutely no reason why Africa should be food deficit...”
Carson believes that President Barack Obama’s new initiative, Feed the Future*, will help create a green agricultural revolution in Africa to end food insufficiency. President Obama pushed the multi-billion dollar initiative at the G8, giving us a vision of how we can lift millions out of poverty.
Taking action nowIt is a grand plan and one which, like many, presents an appealing vision. Phew, we think, it will all be alright then... In the meantime, in the field, as we in the NGO world like to call it, there are people from Plan mobilizing resources to fight the crisis. They are drilling boreholes by hand in 3 refugee camps.
I’ve long thought that the editors of our international media need to start noticing Africa. If we, and the editors who, whether we like it or not, dictate what we’re interested in, are interested, we give Africa a voice, and it is that which will, in the end, mean that 18 million people go home with some food in their bellies.
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