The alarm bell was sounded on the looming nutrition crisis in the Sahel in December 2011 but the response has lagged behind the needs. This week UNICEF UK and colleagues around the world launched an unprecedented mass social media campaign, #SahelNOW, to raise awareness about the plight of children in the Sahel and to raise urgently needed funds.
In preparation UNICEF has mobilised nutritionists and set up hundreds of nutritional rehabilitation centres across all eight countries of the Sahel where an estimated 15 million people are affected by the drought. During the months of January and February, tens of thousands of children were treated for severe acute malnutrition at nutritional rehabilitation centres that are filling up fast with the start of the ‘lean season’ – traditionally the worst time of the year in a harsh environment with difficult logistics.
With the Ministry of Health, UNICEF Chad has set up 261 nutrition rehabilitation centres and has plans to double the number in the next two months. Chad also has the highest numbers of polio cases in Africa and is second only in the world to Pakistan for the disease. Chad is also currently dealing with a meningitis outbreak.
UNICEF sees the current crisis as a new opportunity to tackle the causes of chronically high malnutrition in the Sahel by helping governments and communities build robust health systems, social services, social protection and support for sustainable livelihoods and behavioural change.
UNICEF has received nearly half of the £77 million that it needs to save the lives of children and women suffering from the impact of these multiple threats – poor harvests because of drought, high food prices and insecurity in parts of the Sahel.
“This is not just about saving lives today. It’s about preventing new emergencies tomorrow with the right kind of nutrition at the right time, especially for children under three and it’s about boosting robust health systems so that we can prevent another tragic emergency and children do not have to end up in nutrition centres,” UNICEF’s Executive Director Anthony Lake said.
“These are landlocked countries with tough climates and geography against them. They need help before and after these crises,” he added.
I have a love for West Africa after spending time there in 2010 and I treasure the many friends I have who live in that area of the world. Ghana, where I spent a month travelling and teaching, is a country on the edge of the drought-affected Sahel region. The people in this area of the world are beautiful, strong and are ultimately survivors, but right now they are struggling due to situations completely outwith their control.
The money I raise through people supporting for my 12 Days Below The Line will be going towards the work of UNICEF UK and will directly effect their work in the Sahel region of West Africa. Please, donate what you can.