UN, Aid Groups Call for ‘Urgent’ Action in Sahel

Posted February 15th, 2012 at 10:35 am (UTC-5)
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U.N. officials and humanitarian groups are calling for an “urgent scale up” of aid to Africa's Sahel region, where millions of people are facing severe food shortages.

Officials met with donor governments in Rome Wednesday, telling them only a rapid and comprehensive response to the crisis could stop the problem from growing worse.

The European Union announced it would contribute almost $40 million, with the money going to programs to help one million children and 500,000 pregnant and breast-feeding women.

However, the EU commissioner for humanitarian aid, Kristalina Georgieva, told the French news agency the region needs $725 million this year alone.

Drought, poverty and high food prices have put millions at risk of malnutrition in the region just south of the Sahara Desert.

The federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said Tuesday that up to 14 million people across the semi-arid region do not have enough food.

The federation warned the shortage could affect up to 23 million people if more aid is not received soon.

The U.N. says aid agencies have so far received less than one-fifth of what is needed to fund humanitarian operations in the Sahel, which stretches across Chad, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Senegal.

The meeting comes as a delegation of senior U.N. officials prepare to observe the humanitarian situation in Niger, where more than 5 million people are struggling to get enough to eat.

Valerie Amos, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, and U.N. Development Program Administrator Helen Clark are scheduled to meet with Niger government officials to discuss ways to tackle the crisis.

The Sahel region has been hit by recurring droughts and food crises for decades, most recently in 2009 and 2010.