Root causes must be addressed to end Sahels recurring food crises –

“Malnutrition is not due only to a lack of food, but it is also linked to disease, lack of clean water, lack of information,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos noted yesterday, when the UN and others celebrated World Food Day. “Over the years, we have become very good at responding to immediate needs,” she added. “We now need to become good at building bridges between emergency relief and development.” Yesterday, Ms. Amos traveled to the town of Toumour, some 1,500 kilometres east of the capital Niamey, in the Diffa region, where saw first-hand malnourished children receiving aid at specialized feeding and health centres. Global aid has helped to stem the crisis, with some 5 million people having received food aid, while some 220,000 children under the age of five have been treated for severe malnutrition and 800 specialized centres have been set up. However, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned, many households will still cope with the lingering effects of this year’s food shortage next year. Beyond meeting immediate needs, it said, the challenge is to find lasting solutions to recurrent food crises and the impact of climate change. Niger has faced periodic food crises in the past three decades, with the last occurring in 2005, when more than 3 million people were threatened by severe hunger. Ms. Amos’ visit, her first to Africa since taking up her position last month, is intended to draw the world’s attention to the Sahel, a West African sub-Saharan region that is home to the poorest countries on Earth, with over 10 million people experiencing hunger this year alone. In addition to visiting Toumour, while in Niger, Ms. Amos has met senior Government officials and representatives of UN agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and donors in Niamey. In her discussions, she urged the creation of early warning mechanisms and stressed the need to build partnership with local communities, especially with women. She also sounded a warning on Niger’s population growth. While the country’s population currently stands at 15 million, it is predicted that it will reach 50 million by 2050. Such a surge is “unsustainable” given its current and projected food production capacity, she said, calling for better planning of family size. “Our common challenge is finding durable cross-cutting solutions that ensure that children survive their fifth birthday, grow into adults, and lead productive lives,” Ms. Amos said. 17 October 2010The top United Nations humanitarian official has called for solutions to tackle the root causes of cyclical food crises in Africa’s Sahel region, as she wrapped up a three-day visit to Niger, where half the population is in need of assistance. read more