As the hunger crisis deepens in eight countries of the Sahel region of Africa, humanitarian aid should be increasing. This is not the case, thoug,h in parts of the drought-stricken area.
In Mauritania school meals for children have been reduced by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) due to low funding. WFP relies entirely on voluntary donations.
WFP’s March distribution of food to schools in Mauritania was supposed to provide 54 days of meals to the students. With the low funding WFP had to reduce the number of days children could receive meals to 40.
WFP runs the school feeding for around 150,000 students in nine rural areas where there is malnutrition and poverty. The meals are meant to keep the children in school, especially at a time when drought and high prices have made it much harder for families to get food. WFP has struggled to find funding for the school meals program, leaving it constantly vulnerable to reduced rations.
No summer feeding program is available for the schoolchildren at present. So these children and their families will be headed into the peak period of the Sahel hunger crisis with one less source of food.
A program of summer take-home rations would provide a much-needed safety net for the 150,000 students, plus their families. This would be a crucial addition to ongoing WFP relief operations such as the provision of plumpy’sup, a special food to help combat potentially life-threatening malnutrition in infants.
One of the areas in Mauritania where WFP provides school meals is called Hodh ech Chargui. There are 120,000 Mauritanians in this area, 37 percent of the population, who suffer from hunger.
The severe drought conditions are hard enough to cope with, but there are even more challenges. Hodh ech Chargui is also hosting more than 63,000 refugees from a conflict in the neighboring country of Mali. WFP is facing an 86 percent shortage of funds to feed these refugees.
WFP is providing aid to refugees who fled the conflict in Mali and have been arriving daily in Mauritania and other neighboring countries including Niger. WFP is facing a funding shortage, though, for its refugee relief mission. (WFP/Alan Mouton)
Mauritania and other neighboring countries are seeing a daily influx of refugees from Mali. The UN World Food Programme’s director, Ertharin Cousin, who just visited the Sahel region, said she met a refugee who said, “Everybody wants to leave Mali.” The stream of refugees from Mali is expected to continue. The funding for humanitarian aid has to start flowing more rapidly too.
The international community has to act now to fund all relief operations and to be prepared for an increasing number of refugees. If the world acts now, it can help prevent a famine in the Sahel this summer.