Sahel: A Familiar Tale of Drought, Hunger, and Famine  
by Esha Chhabra
April 17
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Last year, the Horn of Africa suffered from drought and famine. Now, there’s news again that famine and drought are hitting the African continent, this time in the Sahel region. Ten million are facing food insecurity, according to news reports. UNICEF estimates that 1 million children will be at risk of acute malnourishment in 2012. Eight countries are facing the brunt of this: Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Cameroon, and Senegal. An infographic by UNICEF lays out the basics, highlighting all the causes that are contributing to this food crisis.

In the Washington Post, the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, said, “the situation in the 3,400-mile (5500-kilometer) zone that stretches from the Atlantic to the Red Sea is suffering from lack of attention because of the conflict in Syria.”

“We badly need to put this crisis on the map because its humanitarian dimension is becoming extremely, extremely dramatic,” he told reporters in Geneva.

Media attention to the Sahel crisis has been widespread, with news sources covering the basics, but the problem is that they’re not delving into the root causes, which are linked to environmental damage, weak agricultural support, and political turmoil.

The situation is bad. But what are the solutions? Is it simply providing more aid? In the short term, yes. But in the long term?

Doctors without Borders (MSF) writes that drought and hunger have become regular phenomena with the harvest cycles in the region. Something more sustainable must be started:

"Many of the aid organizations working in the region have agreed they must start to transition from emergency response efforts towards structural measures that can assist the longer-term mission to fight illness. MSF, for its part, is already implementing strategies that can help combat the recurring malnutrition crisis in the Sahel over time, not just in the immediate moment."

"No one has the solution, but we now know that treating children by giving mothers responsibility for their care and encouraging prevention by using specialized milk-based products offer extremely encouraging results," Stéphane Doyon, manager of MSF's malnutrition campaign, says. "Our objective is to help identify the most simple, economical approaches possible so that all children have access to them, just like regular vaccinations or access to health care, which have already been recognized as being effective in reducing child mortality."

The Guardian reports that traditional medicine can sometimes exacerbate the situation, providing remedies that only make conditions worse. To combat that, educating mothers on infant care is essential.

"Poor nutritional care among mothers also plays a role. Many women do not give their children breast milk in the first few days as they believe it to be bad for the child; if a woman falls pregnant, she will stop breastfeeding almost immediately. And when the babies become sick, dangerous traditional medical practices are often used."

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