“The leaders of United Nations aid agencies, humanitarian organizations and donor governments will meet on Wednesday in Rome to discuss how to urgently scale up assistance in Africa’s Sahel region, where drought and food shortages are threatening millions of lives,” the U.N. News Centre reports. “This gathering comes at a critical moment as humanitarian agencies are gearing up their response in an effort to prevent a crisis becoming a disaster,” U.N. World Food Programme Executive Director Josette Sheeran said, according to the news service. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization last year warned that irregular rains during 2011 “would lead to a significant drop in production and increased food insecurity,” the news service writes (2/13).
“Seven out of the eight governments in [Africa’s] Sahel … have taken the unprecedented step of declaring emergencies as 12 million people in the region are threatened by hunger,” Inter Press Service reports. “Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Cameroon and Nigeria have all called for international assistance to prevent yet another hunger crisis on the continent,” the news service writes, noting that Senegal “has refrained from announcing an emergency, largely for political reasons,” as it is holding presidential elections later this year (Palitza, 4/15).
U.N. Meeting Delegates Urge International Community To Respond Thoroughly, Rapidly To Drought-Stricken Sahel
“Delegates at a meeting convened by the United Nations to draw up strategies to respond to the humanitarian crisis in West Africa’s drought-prone Sahel region [on Wednesday] called for comprehensive and rapid assistance to the millions of people affected, especially children and women,” the U.N. News Centre reports (2/15). “Heads of U.N. agencies and representatives from governments, the African Union and the Economic Community Of West African States met in Rome to discuss a joint response to the situation in the region,” the Guardian notes (Ford, 2/15). “U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization director Jose Graziano da Silva warned there is ‘little time to act,'” according to VOA’s “Breaking News” blog (2/15).
In this Global Health and Diplomacy opinion piece, Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete examines efforts to meet Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets on maternal and child mortality in Africa, noting, “Although Africa has just 12 percent of the global population, it accounts for half of all maternal deaths and half the deaths of children under five.” He writes, “Though global maternal deaths are in decline and women’s health has at last become a global priority, our goal of reducing maternal mortality by 75 percent in 2015 is still a long way off. … It is unacceptable to allow mothers and children to die when we have the knowledge and resources to save them.”
UNICEF Warns 1M Children In Sahel At Risk Of Death, Disability Due To Malnutrition; Urges Donors To Provide $67M For Necessary Food Aid
UNICEF on Tuesday “warn[ed] an estimated one million young children in eight countries in the Sahel, who will suffer from severe acute malnutrition this year, are at risk of death or permanent disability” and “said … it urgently needs $67 million to provide special life-saving therapeutic feeding for these vulnerable children,” VOA News reports. With up to 23 million people in the region threatened with malnutrition caused by food shortages and drought, UNICEF spokesperson “Marixie Mercado says the crisis has not fully hit, so there still is time to prepare for it. But, in order to do that, she says, UNICEF urgently needs money to be able to put the needed supplies in place before time runs out,” VOA writes. So far, UNICEF has received $9 million of the $120 million needed this year for humanitarian assistance in the region, with $67 million needed now to procure ready-to-use therapeutic food for children, according to the news service (Schlein, 2/21).
In this AlertNet opinion piece, Simon Bush, director of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) at Sightsavers, an international NGO helping people with visual impairments in developing countries, examines efforts to rid Africa of onchocerciasis — a blinding NTD. “In 1947 when Sightsavers’ founder, Sir John Wilson, coined the phrase river blindness to describe the almost unpronounceable disease, … there was little choice for those living in areas where what we now call a neglected tropical disease was endemic,” he writes, adding, “Today, although the World Health Organization estimates that 120 million people are at risk of river blindness, there is hope.”
Gates Calls For Greater Coordination Among U.N. Food Agencies, Announces Nearly $200M In Grants For Agricultural Development Projects
In a speech delivered at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in Rome on Thursday, Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told IFAD, the World Food Programme (WFP), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that the “approach being used today to fight against poverty and hunger is outdated and inefficient” and asked the agencies “to unite around a common global target for sustainable productivity growth to guide and measure their efforts,” a Gates Foundation press release states. “Gates also announced nearly $200 million in grants, bringing to more than $2 billion the foundation’s commitment to smallholder farmers since the agriculture program began in 2006,” according to the press release (2/23).
Mobile phones are improving access to health care in the developing world, according to the series “The Future of mHealth” by Mobiledia, a Forbes contributor. “People in developing nations depend on mobile phones to access health services and prevent disease, as mobile technology creates a platform for improving health care in remote, underserved areas,” the news service writes. The article highlights public health programs in Haiti and Kenya that utilize mobile technology and notes, “Mobile banking is on the rise in the developing world, presenting another opportunity for mobile health to grow.”
Crop Failures, Returning Migrants, Weather Patterns Threatening To Worsen Malnutrition In Africa’s Sahel, Horn Regions
“Sahel states are bracing for a long, potentially deadly hungry season, many weakened by the return of people from Libya who are unemployed, armed and creating fresh strife in already-vulnerable countries,” Agence France-Presse reports. “Crops have failed across a massive swathe of eight countries after late and erratic rains in 2011, and aid agencies have raised the alarm of a food crisis bigger than that which left millions hungry in 2010,” according to the news agency (Blandy, 2/11). In an article examining hunger among children in Mauritania, Inter Press Service writes that “other countries in the Sahel … are affected as well: Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger and the northern regions of Cameroon, Nigeria and Senegal,” adding, “Twelve million people will soon suffer severe food insecurity and hunger in this region, aid agencies warn” (Palitza, 2/10).
Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika, who died April 5, may be remembered for corruption and mismanagement, but his “positive legacy” is his creation of “an agriculture-led boom in Malawi, one that pointed a way for Africa to overcome its chronic hunger, food insecurity, and periodic extreme famines,” Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, writes in a New York Times opinion piece. Despite “resistance” from the donor community, under Mutharika, “Malawi used its own paltry budget revenues to introduce a tiny [agricultural] subsidy program for the world’s poorest people, and lo and behold, production doubled within one harvest season. Malawi began to produce enough grain for itself year after year, and even became a food donor when famine struck the region. Life expectancy began to rise, and is estimated to be around 55 years for the period 2010-15,” he says.