Avoiding Sahel Famine Demands Urgent Action- NOT Dropping 0.7% Target

Lord McConnell


Source: USAID, 2010My colleagues on the Economic Affairs Committee in the House of Lords could hardly have chosen a worse time for their report, published on 29 March 2012, opposing the all party commitment to 0.7% of UK GDP as the target for our nation’s international development aid.

While politicians and pundits in Britain might be having fun arguing about taxes on pasties, international attention is slowly moving to the Sahel Region of West Africa, where 13 million people are at risk of famine due to food shortages caused by weather patterns and regional instability.

The escalating situation in the Sahel is now compounded by the recent coup in Mali, which has resulted in thousands of refugees fleeing across borders. To make matters worse, Mali is expected to be one of the countries hit hardest by the food crisis –an estimated 3.5 million people face food shortages and staple food prices rising over 100 percent.

Two years ago, a catastrophic hunger crisis began to unfold across East Africa, killing between 50,000 and 100,000 in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia alone and affecting more than 13 million people – most of them women and children.   According to a recent report by Save the Children and Oxfam, slow international response was partly to blame for these numbers. The report states that indications of the impending crisis were evident as early as August 2010.  In fact, governments and journalists were raising the alarm even earlier – an article in The Economist, hardly a fringe voice in the media, warned of a looming famine as early as September 2009.

Just as we have received news from the UN that last year’s food famine is officially “over,” the crisis in the Sahel is quickly worsening.  This situation demands immediate action by the international community.

The UN states it will require $725 million USD this year to prevent the famine – of which only 20 percent had been raised by February.  While the UK Government has given nearly £5 million ($7.8 million USD) in aid to the Sahel region, there is a very real danger that the response overall will be too slow –again.

What makes famine most shocking is that it has taken place in an era where information and resources are so readily available.  Despite unprecedented levels of media coverage and international cooperation in humanitarian aid, situations still escalate to the point of crisis before governments and aid agencies begin to respond at scale.

In the past, it has often been the lack of awareness and funding that has stood in the way of effective disaster response.  In East Africa, this was clearly not the case.  Rather, it seems to have been the reluctance of donors to act before there was concrete proof of extreme emergency.  However, when proof comes in the form of human lives lost, something must change.

Save the Children and Oxfam argue rightly that the international community must commit itself to crisis prevention rather than response.  In the report, they put forth a Charter to End Extreme Hunger, which calls for an international commitment to early action at the onset of food crises.

If successful, the charter would compel the release of UN funds at the first warning signs of food crises, increase support for local food production, and scale-up emergency food reserves.  Perhaps most importantly, it would prioritise long-term, preventative humanitarian work that builds resilience to such disasters.

Election violence in Kenya, conflict in Somalia, and famine in Ethiopia have kept East Africa on the international radar for decades – in contrast, the Sahel is rarely mentioned in international news.  This has much to do with its size and geographical spread.  The Sahel is a zone that stretches across the continent.  It spans eight countries, covering northern Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, northern Nigeria, Cameroon, and southern Chad.

In the past ten years, the Sahel has suffered widespread desertification, with major droughts occurring across the region in 2005 and 2010.  In the past months, aid and news organizations have reported that severe drought has returned.  Early warning systems have begun to report signs of imminent famine.  Yet it appears that “famine fatigue” may be setting in, as donors grow weary of yet another African crisis.

A large-scale famine would put the Sahel on the map.  But it would do so through an obscene cost in human lives.  An early, coordinated response by the international community to food shortages in the Sahel could help the region avert the sort of large-scale disaster that devastated East Africa.  Either way, it stands to be the measure of lessons learned.

This is hardly the time to oppose the 0.7 percent development aid target, agreed to decades ago and today in the UK at last, an all party pledge. Nor is it time to turn a blind eye to the Sahel and wait for famine to take hold before taking action. Rather, we must rally together as advocates, donors, volunteers and global citizens to prevent an entirely avoidable crisis.

12 comments for “Avoiding Sahel Famine Demands Urgent Action- NOT Dropping 0.7% Target

  1. Gareth Howell
    30/03/2012 at 5:51 pm

    One wonders whether the famine in this part of Africa is similar to the one in the mid west of the USa in the 30s, except that the USA one was machine driven, and bad practices, whereas this one is driven by far more remote bad practices and ones that are far more difficult to define.

    Otherwise why would local people have considered the possibility that they would have enough to sustain such large numbers of
    off spring, quite apart from the obvious theories of children being the ‘best form of insurance protection’, in a pre-capitalist insurance, world?

    There must come a point, to all men with burgeoning families, whren he must say to himself, ” I do not NEED more children to guarantee my future as far as man’s mortality allows”.

    It cannot be a difficult equation to work out that starving children are not good insurance, and yet suddenly there are millions of starving people.

    There fore the complexity of a modern “dust bowl” is present in far greater degree in Africa, than in USA in the 1930s.

    Theirs is driven by susbsistence, starvation and death, whilst the dust bowl drove bancruptcy, and migration to better places, a far less penalty to human kind.

  2. Gareth Howell
    30/03/2012 at 5:55 pm

    My brother who seems to be a Rotarian these days and does not enjy political claptrap at all,not even Lord McConnell’s, does things the way he can.

    Instead of dealing with millions, he deals with one. That way he gets things done.

    He answered an e-mail letter from a woman in Uganda,who needed help, and they took it from there.


    Lord McConnell could try leafing his book.

  3. maude elwes
    03/04/2012 at 12:29 pm

    Foreign Aid of any kind is simply money laundering of one kind and another. The so called service user is out of the loop.

    Whilst one man, woman or child in the UK and Europe is going without food, warmth and a roof over their head, foreign aid is simply theft on a grand scale.

    We never voted in this coalition, or any other government, on the policy grounds that a percentage of our tax pounds was going to be sent to countries outside our shores, whilst our own people suffer.

    To do so is treasonous.

    03/04/2012 at 1:03 pm

    I’m a big believer in charity, however, I think it’s time to educate these African countries similar to the Chinese, limiting size of families. These African countries appear to breed relentlessly no matter of conditions, surely it should now be STOP THE CHILDREN & NOT SAVE THE CHILDREN.I know people will argue that it is their Human Rights,but,alas, if they can not afford to keep them, they should not be having them, expecting other nations to help out.Having worked in Rhodesia(Zimbabwe) and Mozambique, I have seen some sad sites, but with correct education, these could be, I’m sure could be improved.When aid is given to these countries, is it policed to ensure it gets to the poor people and NOT governments, I don’t think so! Eric Grosvenor

  5. Twm O'r Nant
    04/04/2012 at 7:03 am

    We never voted in this coalition, or any other government, on the policy grounds that a percentage of our tax pounds was going to be sent to countries outside our shores, whilst our own people suffer.

    But when we did vote we knew that the winning government would have secretarial responsibility for the DFID (Department of International Development) which has ongoing commitments in a number of African countries, which are always upheld.

    Maude needs to be told that DFID was at one time part of the FO, and had a slightly different name.

    Since the foreign Office is deemed to be an arms dealer of high magnitude by many observors (Including the New Respect MP) who rails against it, it is not surprising that
    the “International Development” side of things was spun/hived off, in to a separate
    Department of State, otherwise it was much too obviously “development” for the purposes of making war.

    Eric Grosvenor’s(salvete) Comments about “Save the Children” are amusing and apt.
    It may be a high management heavy costs charity, but my comment above about the state department division some years ago, may also interest him.

    I would have to do a little research to discover precisely when it was divided, the latter a principle of government, from time to time, for any state department.

  6. Twm
    04/04/2012 at 7:07 am
    • maude elwes
      04/04/2012 at 12:31 pm


      My point being, the Ministers of this, and any government elected by the British people, should be, first and foremost, making sure they eliminate poverty right here in the UK. After that, Europe, then when all within this jusidiction are without starvation, have a roof over their heads, and are able to stand on their own feet, the rest of the world.

      ‘Charity begins at home.’

      And as it is our tax payers who foot this bill, it is government responsibility to see it is spent on their behalf.

      You want money for the rest of the world, advertise for it the way Geldorf did. Up front and in your face. That then is legitimate, providing you tell those who donate it is for those ‘not’ within our shores. And don’t pretend part of it is for the UK. As they do now.

      Also, you may want to expose how much the people who run these fund raising concerns are paid as an annual stipend? And tell it like it is. Where it goes, to whom and for what. How you follow it up? How you make sure those on the ground in the villages, et al, and wherever, actually recieve it. And how much of it they do actually get on a one to one basis. The poverty stricken that is. Not the do gooders.

  7. Twm O'r Nant
    04/04/2012 at 9:41 am

    Quote from European journal of Development Research 2006

    “Food sovereignty..adds that food should be guaranteed by local production for local consumption. Hans Holmen adds that African agriculture and food escurity are under attack from transnational agribusiness corporations and International organisations such as the world bank and WTO. They are striving to acquire control of food chains and to force Africa to open its borders to overwhelming foreign competition, which will deepen poverty and extend dependency.”

  8. MilesJSD
    05/04/2012 at 11:51 pm

    Has it occurred to They-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed how stricken they themselves are, with both moral, mind-functional, and governance-functional Poverty ?

    If TWMBO had planned, budgeted, and regulated both the global-destruction of Earth’s lifesupports, and the distribution of those Lifesupports, we would none of us, the Sahel poverty-stricken as well as the bogus-bonus-bloated TWMBO, be in the complex Predicament that is causing TWCTWMBO* to order the destruction of Two (2) Earthsworth, rising to Three (3) Earthsworth by 2050, of Lifesupports.

    * TWCTWMBO = Those-Who-Control-They-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed
    (suggested abbreviative pronunciation

  9. Twm O'r Nant
    07/04/2012 at 6:09 pm

    Charity begins at home,
    but what if you are homeless?

  10. Twm O'r Nant
    07/04/2012 at 6:13 pm

    Geldorf was/is a money chucker basically.
    Chuckmoney at it and it gets solved.

  11. Gareth Howell
    08/04/2012 at 3:47 pm


    The countries in the map above are more or less West Africa, where they are starving; you get on to central Africa and they are all fighting AND starving, or have been recently,from Sudan to the DRG, population 71m people.

    Even East Africa is not doing well, where vast numbers of Somalians are camped on the borders of Kenya.

    It is surely the politics of the banale; there is nothing you can do, and you might just as well not think about it, even if you are a Lord or MP, and think you are going to change the world with hot air!

    My own conscience is clear with regard to excessive use of fossil fuels, not being in any way responsible for murder and death in Iraq, Afghanistan either. I need say no more
    and keep silence.

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