Sahelian Food Crisis
Please note, while I have an academic background in international development, I am not an expert. I have tried to source material where possible and opinions/advice are entirely my own.
In case you haven’t heard (and it wouldn’t surprise me because there isn’t much media coverage), there is a food and nutrition crisis occurring in the Sahel region of West Africa right now. It is estimated that close to 19 million people are facing food insecurity with more than 1 million children under the age of five at risk of severe acute malnutrition, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
It’s bad. Really bad. The current crisis has been brought on by a clusterf**k of drought, high grain prices, environmental degradation, population displacement, and a decrease in remittances. Oh, and the political instability in some of the countries? Well, it doesn’t make things any easier.
Many refugees have escaped to Mali, hoping for assistance. Right now, the World Food Programme (WFP) and UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) are trying to do as much as they can.
They expect they will run out of food in September.
That’s two weeks away.
In Burkina Faso, food is also running short and it takes three months to get food to the landlocked country. Any delay in money, transportation, and delivery means people starve. They die.
Here’s another problem. Because this is a protracted situation, that is, it is a taking place over a long period of time, children are also at risk of missing out on whatever education they were receiving before. Education is often not seen as a priority in times of food crises, yet, if it is not provided, an entire generation could lose out. This can have a tremendous effect in the long-term as children will not have even a basic grasp of numeracy and literacy, making it more difficult to get jobs, helping to perpetuate the cycle of poverty.
Education breaks the cycle of poverty.
The UN estimates $1.651 million is needed to properly address the Sahel crisis in five countries. So far, $850 million has been provided. An additional $851 million is needed. The US has contributed $403 million (yay!) and Canada has contributed $47 million (pretty good, considering our GDP and size).
There are also concerns about access to clean water and sanitary facilities. Cholera is a nasty disease and while it is easy to prevent, it spreads quickly when people don’t have access to treatment, cannot be quarantined, or if basic washing facilities are not available.
Why should we care?
Because we are all humans. Because a society should be judged on how we treat the most vulnerable, regardless of where they live, their ethnicity, income, language or whatever other variable you can come up with. Because you would want someone to help you out if you were facing death.
What can you do?
Become educated. Read about what is going on. Check out Relief Web www.reliefweb.int or AlertNet (www.trust.org/alertnet/) to get up to date information on the Sahel crisis and other crises. Tell others what is going on.
Talk to your elected representative to urge them to make this a political issue. Because it is. There is enough food in the world to feed everyone, it’s just a matter of priorities. The Canadian and US governments spend very little money on development assistance and humanitarian aid. In the US, it is a fraction of what is spent on military. Why is the ability to kill someone, to attack a nation more important than saving lives?
If you can, donate money. There are many great organizations out there that you can donate to. In Canada, I recommend the Humanitarian Coalition or the Canadian Red Cross. You may be tempted to donate actual supplies. This is NOT cost effective and often organizations receive goods that are old, not useful, or even expired, in the case of medications. Moreover, donations of goods are rarely accompanied by money to help cover the cost of shipping, meaning your donation, though well-intentioned, may never make it to your desired destination. Donating money means organizations can buy the supplies that are required in locations closer to the crisis, cutting down on costs and making sure people get what they really need.
When you are looking for an organization to donate to, there are a few things to look for:
- Administration fee: is it too high or too low? I think a 15-20% admin/fundraising fee is perfectly acceptable. Higher than that, and I become concerned about whether money is going to those the organization purports to help. Any lower and I am concerned that the organization is unsustainable and/or is possibly underpaying its employees or relying solely on overworked volunteers. Keep in mind that administration fees are sometimes separate from fundraising costs.
- Presence: does the organization already have a presence in the country? If they do, they will be better positioned to help those in need. They will know the local context, have contacts, and already have an infrastructure in place
- Experience: Do they know what they are doing? If you want your money to help children, donate to an organization that clearly states it works with kids. Save the Children is a good one, in this case. Experience goes beyond thematic/programming area. Do they have the personnel? Do they hire local staff? Simply, are they able to do what they say they can do?
- Maximize your dollars: the Canadian government often does matching funding during times of crises, including right now. This means that when you give $1, the government gives $1. Some organizations have deals worked out with supply companies so that $1 = $10 in medical supplies/food/something else
- Registered charity: this means they have gone through an application process to be approved by the government and, in Canada at least, they have to undergo annual audits to make sure they are following the law. It also means you can get a tax receipt, if this is something you are concerned about
- Think long-term: yes, the money is needed now, but long-term solutions are also important. Food needs to get to people in the Sahel right now, but they are also in need of support to rebuild their infrastructure, provide training for jobs, and so much more.
- Unrestricted funding: if you label your money for a certain crisis, organizations have to use the money for that particular crisis, even if there is another situation that occurs. By providing an unrestricted donation, you place trust in the organization to determine where the priority is. I tend to split my donations 50/50 between the specific crisis and a generalized fund.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a few suggestions based on factors I look for in an organization. Ultimately, you have to be comfortable with where your dollars are going. For the record, I am not a fan of child-sponsor programs but I won’t get into that here. If you like them, go right ahead. Your money, your choice.
If you do want to take even more steps, look into volunteering for organizations. They may be looking for people to help sort through mailed-in donations, write thank-you letters, help call people, etc. You won’t know until you ask. Volunteering overseas is a bit trickier. Unless you have the knowledge, skills, and experience, you may be more of a hindrance than a help in an emergency setting. If you do have the skills, think about how they can be of use.
Basically, this is all to say that you can do something. It is not up to me to tell you how much to do or how to do it, but I do encourage you to help out any way you possibly can. Please believe me when I say that any little bit you can give does make a difference.