While the world is preoccupied with the military and political implications of the wars in Libya and Syria, and the coup in Mali, a more dangerous crisis is looming on the horizon, brought on by these very wars.
The Sahel, a drought-ridden desert region in North Africa that stretches 4,000 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea is on the brink of another famine — the third in 10 years — as a result of poor rainfall, rising food prices, chronic poverty, and the military conflicts in African countries, UPI reports.
Sixteen million people will be affected, according to The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture organisation, with more than one million children expected to suffer from severe malnutrition.
While battling drought and lack of food is de rigeur for people in the Sahel, which spans Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Sudan, South Sudan, and Eritrea, the conflicts in Libya, Mali, and Nigeria have made things worse. Thousands of refugees escaping these countries have strained Sahel’s already-minimal food resources, and the fleeing of migrant workers from the wars has cut off access to an indispensable source of income.
International reaction to the military crises has not helped: the West and Africa have imposed embargoes and cut off all but humanitarian aid to Mali in the wake of the coup, creating a sense of desperation in a region that imports all its fuel and most other commodities.
Families have been forced to adopt dangerous “coping mechanisms” to survive, reducing the number of daily meals, selling livestock, going into debt, and taking children out of school, according to Save the Children’s Rebecca Barber. Consequently, this sort of malnutrition could then lead to lower immunity against diseases like polio and cholera. “The people of the Sahel are on the edge of a perfect storm,” UNICEF’s Executive Director Anthony Lake told AllAfrica.
The international community could be forced into choosing between condemning the military overthrow of regimes and preventing further deterioration of the Sahel, Head of the Michael S. Ansari Africa centre in Washington, J. Peter Pham told Voice of America.
So far, a UN appeal for $724 million to fund aid operations in the Sahel has elicited only half that amount, the AP reports.
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