This year presents itself as yet another without any concrete solutions for the countries in this African region and their fight against famine, already affecting 18 million people, according to the United Nations (UN).
In the Sahel – the region that covers the territories of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Algeria, Sudan and Eritrea – it is calculated that more than 2.5 million children could be suffering some type of malnutrition, according to data reported by the charities Oxfam and Save the Children.
Although this zone between the Sahara desert and the Sudanese savannah has been strongly affected by drought over the last twenty years, 2010 was undoubtedly the worst year for the rains.
However, the extreme aridity of the soils and the lack of precipitation are not the only causes of the current food crisis facing the Sahel, experts have surmised.
These elements are added on top of structural poverty, market speculation and the armed conflict that exploded in the north of Mali last March.
The population of the countries within the region – besides others such as Burkina Faso, the Gambia and Cameroon – already suffer from a lack of food, the stage before famine.
Still, the institution calculated that approximately four million infants are still at risk of suffering from severe malnutrition and claims that no country in the area can escape the problem.
Senegal, which in 2010 was one of the countries less affected by the food crisis in the Sahel, shows few promising signs.
A study conducted by the Senegalese Minister for Health in eight regions of the country showed that the average acute malnutrition in children younger than 59 months varied between six and fourteen per cent.
This percentage is only one point below the15 per cent mark set by the World Health Organisation as a figure for concern.
More research carried out by the Office for Agriculture in Senegal revealed that the prices of staple foods skyrocketed due to lack of productions and market speculation.
In Mauritania, which has the lowest reserves of potable water in the world, the increase in children with malnutrition exceeded the capacity of the organisation which took care of them, say Oxfam.
The current food crisis in the country could cause the deaths of 60% of malnourished children, warned the regional advisor on the subject of nutrition in western and central Africa for Unicef, Felicité Tchibindat.
Equally, the situation in Chad was made worse by the arrival of Libyan refugees, as a result of the frenzied conflict in the country in 2011. An Evaluation of Post-Harvest Food Safety demonstrated that three and a half million Chadians lack food, while the production of grains has reduced by 50%.
The country with the highest case of malnutrition is Niger, where around 400 million children in the country suffer from malnutrition and nearly one in 10 loses their life, as noted by the UN’s World Food Programme.
Regional insecurity, along with the armed conflict in Mali and insurgency in Nigeria, has also generated unexpected population displacements in a fragile region that is unable to handle these brutal changes.
Intervention and crisis
The fighting in the north of Mali, which directly affects three million people and has caused the flight of a further 380 million, seriously hinders the survival of children and their families.
French troops intervened in the north of the country on 11th January to expel radical Islamists from the country, who had been occupying the area since June 2012.
Since the intervention began, the already fragile situation of the population has deteriorated even more.
The blockade of the Mopti-Gao route (north central) – the principal commercial hub – because of the fighting considerably limits the movement of goods.
The armed conflict has made children the most vulnerable sector of society because of the lack of food, in addition to exposing them to malnutrition, violence and abuse, according to sources.
The French authorities themselves reported that the military offensive in Mali costs a daily rate of 2.7 million Euros, meaning that after little more than a month of intervention, the bill comes to more than 83.7 million.
The economic and social development of Sahel countries does not form part of western political agendas; a reason why it appears that the food crisis affecting children in the region will be solved in the near future.
(Translated by Daniela Fetta)