18th July, 2012
West Africa is in the grip of a crippling drought. About 18.7 million people across the Sahel region are affected by a serious food and nutrition crisis. More than one million children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition. The United Nations report that it will cost about $1.6 billion to deal with the crisis in West Africa, but to date only 49 per cent of that amount has been raised.
Niger is one of the worst affected countries with 6.4 million people at risk of hunger. World Vision Australia chief executive Tim Costello has just returned from Niger where despite the suffering he saw many people carrying a sense of hope. Hope that the rains would bring new crops and that they would not suffer the number of deaths seen in East Africa.
SCENES OF HOPE: Top - Tim Costello among children at the Komabangou Mines; Middle - Children at the Mangaize refugee camp; Bottom - Women walk amid tents at the Mangaize refugee camp. PICTURES: Adel Sarkozi/World Vision
“I have been inspired by the tremendous examples of resilience and determination in some of the most desolate places I have ever seen,” Mr Costello says.
“Fathers risking their lives in a disused goldmine to try to feed their families, or mothers determined to get treatment for malnourished children despite the obstacles they face shows the tenacity of the human spirit.”
Niger has opened its border to those fleeing internal fighting in Mali, where there are reports of landmines being used in the country’s west, children being abducted as soldiers and young girls being sexually assaulted.
Less than 50 kilometres from the Mali-Niger border, Mangaize refugee camp is temporarily sheltering 4000 people. The population of the dusty sanctuary for the Malians who have fled fighting in their own country is still growing.
The camp is currently experiencing high 30s to low 40 degree Celsius heat, so the bore well sunk by World Vision and its six taps are life-saving for the families, some with seven or eight children. The water is collected in 25-litre jerry cans and carried away on the heads of slight women in beautifully coloured robes.
World Vision Australia has also been distributing essential items to refugees settling at the Mangaize refugee camp including soap, treated mosquito nets, and bed mats. However the scale of the tragedy in West Africa now is enormous and as each day passes the bitter reality sets in that there is so much more that could be done to relieve such human suffering.
With more than 18 million people affected by the food crisis across several countries, all of them are trying to battle the consequences of unrelenting drought. This in effect exacerbates regional instability and subsequent migration and displacement; long-term underdevelopment; locust attacks; and significant regional mean temperature variations.
World Vision is trying to help 1.1 million of them. At a health clinic near Koulikoara trained volunteers go out into the community on bikes so malnourished children can be treated even if their parents can’t get them to doctors. Across 16 villages in a region of 31,000 people only two children have died in the last few months from malnutrition. Countless lives have been saved by determined mothers getting their children weighed and, if necessary, treated with a form of super-nutritious peanut butter called Plumpy’nut.
Long-term development projects established through the child sponsorship program have helped some communities build resilience to disaster and they are in a better position than others, but despite the hope the suffering is acute.
After spending several days in the country, the epicentre of the West African food crisis, Mr Costello identified the desperate need for more action. “There is still so much to be done to ease the human suffering there,” he said.
Gabrielle Brophy is a media officer for World Vision Australia.
To donate to the World Vision Australia’s West Africa Food Crisis Appeal, call 13 32 40 or visit http://www.worldvision.com.au/