Dualta Roughneen is Plan Ireland's Food Crisis Response Coordinator for the West Africa region.
With just 35% of the funds raised needed to avert a full-scale food crisis in West Africa, it’s time for the world to act.
West Africa is not a place that many people in Ireland are too familiar with. People have heard of places like Liberia and Sierra Leone, primarily for negative reasons such as war and child soldiers. But how many know where Niamey is? Are there many who can pronounce Ouagadougou?
The world will soon find out. Niger and much of the Western Sahel basin, stretching from Senegal to Chad is approaching a food and nutrition crisis. Around 13 million people are already affected by food insecurity and more than 1 million children under 5 years are expected to suffer from moderate acute malnutrition.
Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and the Gambia have declared a crisis and called for international assistance.
In Tillabéri, Niger, I talked to one village leader who simply said there is little they can do. The rains were poor last year and very little grew. The people in the village don’t have money, or animals to sell since they sold most in 2010 to get by the last time the rains failed.
That is bad enough, but now an armed conflict in Mali has provoked the displacement of over 220,000 people from their homes.
About 95,000 of these remain in the north of Mali, currently unable to receive any assistance because of the conflict, while about 130,000 have fled to Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger - countries already in crisis.
Waiting for the shock factor
The worst of all this is that those fleeing the fighting have sought refuge in places that are likely to suffer the worst effects of the food crisis. Fighting and refugees often generate media attention, but there is not yet the shock factor of emaciated babies to illustrate the looming food crises.
To date, less than 35% of the funds needed to manage, or possibly avert, a full-scale crisis have been provided.
About 150km from Niamey, around Ayourou - very close to the Malian border, Plan in Niger has been trying to provide basic assistance to over 10,000 Malian refugees. The complexity of international law means that because they are only 5km from their own border, they are not actually classified as refugees.
Children facing malnourishment
This means that under the eyes of international law, the Niger government could legitimately turn a blind eye, but they choose not to.
The local government in Tillabéri has been working hard to do what it can for the refugees, whilst also addressing the looming food crisis for its own people. The local Prefect has ensured that the refugees have land to stay on and has supported organisations such as Plan to provide food, healthcare, water and shelter.
Morally, given that 5 million of Nigerien citizens are struggling to meet their basic food needs, and 1 million Nigerien children could be malnourished in a few short months, the government could hardly be criticised for saying it has enough to do. But it hasn’t.
The rest of the world has to make that choice too.
Please support our response in West Africa by making a donation today