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European Commission - Press release

Race against time to avert hunger in the Sahel

Brussels, 08 February 2012 - The European Commission is scaling up its humanitarian assistance to €123.5 million for the Sahel region of sub-Saharan Africa where 12 million people are at risk of hunger.

The decision has been made amid increasing recognition by the international community of the urgent need to contain the looming food crisis. Leading donors, including EU Member States, the United States of America, Canada, Brazil and others, are meeting today in Brussels to discuss how best to help those in greatest need and to reinforce their commitment to raising the alarm and mobilise assistance on behalf of the most vulnerable people in the Sahel countries.

Kristalina Georgieva, the Humanitarian Aid Commissioner, says that she is determined to ensure that the resources mobilised by the international community will match the scale of the crisis as it evolves. Combined with at least 150 million of development assistance, it brings the Commission's funding for the Sahel so far this year to almost 275 million. But it's estimated that 700 million are required to cover the next 6 months.

"All the early warning signs are flashing red; malnutrition rates are steadily rising, the price of food is increasing, the displacement of large numbers of people and their livestock has started. The EU has taken immediate action and I urge others to do the same" said Kristalina Georgieva, the European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response.

Five Sahel countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) have declared an emergency and called for international assistance. Commissioner Georgieva, who visited the region last month, added: "The governments of the region need to be supported in their efforts to avert this crisis. The early warnings of this crisis have helped prepare a prompt emergency response. But without well-designed intervention now there is a high risk of a full-blown food crisis by June. By acting now we can save a lot more lives as well as avoiding the additional burdens which come with reacting when the situation is already reaching its peak."

In the Sahel the so-called "hungry season" normally runs from May/June to September. This year, because of failed harvests in 2011, it is expected to start within weeks. Without help people could soon be starving to death.

Fighting the blight of malnutrition among children and pregnant and nursing women are top priorities for the Commission. It's also a prerequisite for breaking the cycle of chronic food insecurity and underdevelopment in the region. With these objectives and with Commission funding, UNICEF is bringing in specialised therapeutic feeding products to treat severe malnutrition when rates peak later in the year. The World Food Programme has already begun to purchase food for the most vulnerable populations. Additional funding is going towards cash transfers where those most in need are able to buy food for themselves. This will encourage local traders to continue bringing food to markets, as they can be confident there will be buyers for their produce.

A crisis compounding a crisis

The countries of the Sahel are among the poorest in the world. Of the 187 countries listed in the 2011 UN Human Development Index, Niger is ranked 186, Chad 183, Burkina Faso 181 and Mali 175. The current food crisis is therefore aggravating an already difficult situation. During a year with normal harvests the poorest households spend most of their income (around 70%) on food. The erratic rains and poor harvests of 2011 are now leading to rapidly rising food prices (up to 50% higher than last year), pushing many households into crisis and uncertainty over how to feed their families.

This is also a complex and difficult region suffering from a deteriorating environment with frequent droughts and growing desertification. The Sahel is in the front line of climate change with the Sahara creeping rapidly southwards.

For more information

Commissioner Georgieva's website:

The European Commission's Humanitarian aid and Civil protection:

Contacts :

David Sharrock (+32 2 296 89 09)

Irina Novakova (+32 2 295 75 17)

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