C’est grave. Food insecurity in the Sahel region has been ongoing since, and likely before, 2005. Today, famine is yet again imminent in the region and risks affecting over 10 million people in Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad; countries that are at particularly high risk. In those countries price of some cereals are as high as 40% over the 5-year average. Chad and Mauritania expect a grain deficit of 50%.
The UN World Food Program calls the crisis climate-related. It seems that several factors have contributed to the making of this impending crisis:
- Irregular rains in the 2011 crop cycle led to lower production
- Low grain reserves
- Increased risk after once reliable remittances from relatives in Ivory Coast and Libya no longer exist due to civil unrest and violence there
- Increased food prices, due to grain shortages, conflict in Ivory Coast, and probably other factors.
But according to UN special rapporteur on food, there’s more to it. “This crisis may look like a natural calamity, but it is in fact a symptom of our failure to be better prepared and to react more swiftly to early warning signs. The failure of the international community to act, now and in the future, would result in major violations of the right to food.”
The picture is grim and threatens to affect millions in Niger, where six million are at risk of hitting food shortage. The last severe food shortage in the region in 2010 affected millions, too. I wrote about factors affecting the crisis then, too, some cited as far back as the 80s.
Everyone from Oxfam to the FAO are calling for the international aid community and governments prepare, to assist and to try to prevent the worst from happening.
Mr. De Schutter also underscored the need for widespread preventive measures, calling on the international community to ensure that emergency food reserves be pre-positioned in risk-prone regions and emphasizing the need for further local investment in climate-resilient agriculture such as diverse farming systems and agroforestry.
He nevertheless noted that the need for longer-term structural actions should not prevent swift and immediate action.
“We have the technology to predict food shortages accurately, and we have learned some lessons from previous crises. Now we need the international response,” he said. “The world must not make the same mistakes it did in delaying its response to last year’s crisis in the Horn of Africa. We have a chance, and a duty, to save lives.”
While the East Africa food crisis persists, another part of the continent prepares to apply lessons learned, inch’Allah.