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Brussels, 23 March 2012
The European Commission's response to the food crisis and long-term food insecurity in the Sahel region of Africa
1. How big is the food crisis in the Sahel in 2012?
The Sahel region of Western Africa suffers from chronic food insecurity; this has triggered several food crises in the last decade, due either to national under-production, increase of food prices on international markets or local agricultural over-production which causes rapid price fluctuations. On top of this, localised areas are constantly suffering from food insecurity. In the countries of the Sahel (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) acute malnutrition rates are persistently above the internationally recognized alert threshold of 10% Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rate. An estimated 226,000 children die because of malnutrition or directly related causes every year, whether or not there is a crisis.
The 2012 crisis is expected to have a bigger impact in a large number of countries across the Sahel region, including the northern zones of some coastal countries in West Africa. The European Commission's humanitarian aid Directorate General estimates that 15 million people are currently at risk (i.e. not be able to consume the recommended daily calorie intake of 2100 Kcal/person).
It is clear that the "lean season" (normally from April-May to September each year) will be very difficult for the most vulnerable populations. It has already started in some areas and countries, and for the Sahel’s pastoralist populations.
The difficulties to secure adequate food supply and decent income in th Sahel region are due to:
The evolution of a new acute food crisis in a context of widespread poverty means that the poorest households have little opportunity to recover and build resilience. Even in a non-crisis year, they already struggle to cover basic food needs. This year the depletion of their few productive assets and livestock is compounded by high levels of indebtedness for many.
Another aggravating factor is the return of hundreds of thousands of people following the Libya crisis and the end to substantial and important remittances that had been provided by former migrant workers. The global context of high and volatile food prices is also having a painful effect on local markets in West Africa.
2. What is the European response to the food and nutrition crisis?
The recurrent nature of the crisis in the Sahel and the ongoing emergency call both for an immediate response to help the people in needand for a structural and long-term strategy to reduce the chronic risks of food security and strengthen resilience.
The EU has been present in the region for more than 30 years, delivering humanitarian as well as development aid. Throughout 2011, considered a normal year following a very good harvest, it is estimated that the Commission's humanitarian funding has helped treat over 200,000 of the estimated 550,000 malnourished children who received treatment from Mauritania to Chad.
Today, the Commission is also acting to help the most vulnerable populations in the countries worst affected by food and nutrition crises. To reinforce the capacities of the countries to cope with the present situation, the EU has adopted a three-phased approach based on close coordination between international humanitarian and development aid agencies and national governments.
The main phases and their timeframe for the 2012 crisis are 'mitigation and preparedness' (November 2011 – February 2012), 'emergency response' (March – September 2012) and ‘recovery/resilience building’ (after September 2012).
The Commission has intervened at the first signs of a new food crisis in 2011, detected early thanks to its humanitarian experts’ monitoring on the ground. A number of projects are already contributing to quick relief to the most affected populations and to the fight against malnutrition in the region. The Commission has allocated a total of €123.5 million of humanitarian aid to respond to emergency food-security needs and address acute malnutrition. The goal is to try and avert an even bigger crisis and to prepare the most vulnerable for the impending 'lean season'.
The Commission’s humanitarian assistance is recently in the emergency response phase of this crisis. From the beginning of the 'lean season' it will be ready to support the most vulnerable populations through:
Once the Sahel is through the peak of the crisis, the recovery and resilience building phase will begin. It aims to:
Elements of the long-term EU response
In addition to humanitarian support, the EU is operating development programmes, funded through the EU budget and the European Development Fund. Projects for over €200 million are currently ongoing or planned in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Chad (see list of projects).
Due to the aggravation of the food crisis the European Commission has decided to allocate an additional €164.5 million. It will be divided between six countries in the West Africa region as follows:
A large part of this additional allocation will be implemented by international organisations or NGOs. Niger's allocation will be channelled by the National Mechanism to the prevention and the management of food crises (Dispositif national pour la prévention et la gestion des crises alimentaires). This type of support will relieve already fragile budgetary situations and enable governments to subsidise food and input (such as seeds and fertilizers) for the next season. This ensures government ownership and coordination of the aid.
The EU will continue and intensify the work it has been carrying out in the region: strengthening resilience, working on the root causes of malnutrition, improving the functioning of regional markets, and increasing the regional and national capacity to reduce the risks of disasters.
3. Examples of ongoing and planned projects:
One of them has helped farmers in two villages to increase their production of seeds from 27 to 347 tons. 30 harvesting machines were provided to local collectives in this project, and around 2000 people were trained on production, harvesting and treatment of seeds. In addition, storage facilities were built, as well as 158 wells that facilitate irrigation.
An additional €5 million of funding to this project will enabled it to cover the North of Mali. It will be implemented in cooperation with UNICEF through actions such as the promotion of breastfeeding (to ensure babies' healthy development) and the reinforcement of national institutional capacities for better monitoring of the nutrition situation.
In the long run, the 11th European Development Fund and the Food Security Thematic Programme will continue the EU's support to building resilience and strengthening the capacity of the region to prevent future food crises.