What’s going on in West Africa?

Richard Verber
With the Olympic Games dominating our television screens and newspapers it’s easy to have missed the worsening of an ongoing crisis in West and Central Africa. In this short briefing we take a look at the situation today and how it has happened.

With the Olympic Games dominating our television screens and newspapers it’s easy to have missed the worsening of an ongoing crisis in West and Central Africa. In this short briefing we take a look at the situation today and how it has happened.

The crisis today

Since March 2012 an additional 6 million people in West and Central Africa have been put at risk of food insecurity, with the Sahel food crisis now affecting more than 18.7 million people.[1] 

Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger have all declared a crisis and called for international assistance.  Since March 2012, Niger, which has received the bulk of international aid to date, has maintained number of people at-risk at 5.5m (more than a third of the country), but the at-risk population in Mali has grown from 3.5m to 4.6m, in Burkina Faso from 1.7m to 2m, and in Chad it is estimated that number of people considered in danger has risen to 3.6m.[2] 

How has this happened?

The crisis, which is predominately a function of poor rainfalls and failed harvests, is not likely to improve even marginally due to natural forces until October when a short rainy period is due.  Total cereal production in April was confirmed to be 26% lower than in 2011,[3] and estimated in July to be down by as much as 50%.

Failing food production has led to dangerous reductions in national food reserves, which has in turn resulted in staple food price spikes of as much as 60-85% against five-year average prices.[4] In the past few months alone, wheat prices have inflated by 50%, maize by 45% and soybeans by 30%.[5] 

International aid efforts have been hampered in the region due to the political instability in countries such as Mali and Libya which have partially exacerbated the crisis by displacing large numbers of people.  The political instability in northern Nigeria has also prevented commercial food imports to the Sahel which has further degraded the outlook.

Fundraising failures

International aid organisations have been attempting to launch pre-emptive appeals in order to avert a repeat of the acute crisis in West Africa in 2010 and the more recent 2011 food crisis in East Africa.  As of July a consortium of international development agencies including World Vision, Action Against Hunger, Oxfam, and Save the Children set a goal to raise $239.77 million to fund relief operations to reach nearly 6 million people.  These efforts have only raised $51.7 million to date, which is barely a fifth of the target.[6]  This fundraising failure has been echoed by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) which requested $112 million in funding to support 8 million vulnerable people, but instead was only allocated 26% of this amount by donor governments.[7]

Why are we only hearing about this now?

Unsurprisingly, as the crisis has increased in severity, it has received increasing media coverage.  In the past few weeks articles have appeared in major publications including the BBC and CBC. The Metro and Globe newspapers have also carried stories publicising the crisis. Notably, in Canada the Federal Government has instituted a West Africa philanthropy matching scheme which will match Canadian citizens’ donations to the food relief efforts until September.[8]

How can I help?

WJR’s emergency appeal was launched at the start of March and is still open. If you’d like to donate, please click here.

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