West Africa (MNN) — Non-Government Organizations working in the
Sahel Region of West Africa say the area is in a "permanent food crisis." Jeff Palmer, executive director for Baptist Global Response, explains: "It's in a cyclical hunger crisis. It's been that way for time immemorial
because of droughts…and conflicts and things that
Palmer says the good years are getting fewer while at the same
time, trouble is on the rise. "A number of years ago, you'd see 8-10 years [of] have these huge Sahel-type famine things happening from there
all the way across to the East to the Horn of Africa. You're now seeing 3-5 years, and maybe even going shorter."
Sahel is a 3,400 mile expanse that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red
Sea, between the Sahara Desert to the north and the savanna to the south. Its
name derives from an Arabic word that means "shore" — the Sahel appears to run
as a coastline along the southern edge of the Sahara's ocean of sand. The Sahel
covers parts of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Niger,
Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, Cameroon, and Eritrea.
The trouble is "compassion fatigue." Promised aid has not been coming through from the international
community to meet the needs that exist. Aid groups like BGR are finding creative ways to get sustained funds. "It's not going to go
away, even if we have feeding going on. We have good programs. [But] because of these
external factors, it's just something that we're going to be dealing with from
here until eternity."
Right now, Mali's insurrection plays a big role. Tuareg secessionists have taken over the
northern territory with the goal of instilling Sharia law. After eight months, the fighting remains
fierce. What's more, Sharia is being
enforced, as evidenced by the stoning of an unmarried couple and the destruction
of centuries-old shrines.
Palmer explains how the rebellion impacts project costs. "The cost to put in a water well for a
community should only run a couple of thousand dollars. But because of armed
conflict and because of extra precaution, and because of the extra cost and the
risk to get things in, you're looking at wells now costing $10,000."
However, as refugees are pouring out of Mali, the ministry team is hearing that people
in northern Mali are in desperate need of food, water, medicine and shelter. So, BGR
is trying to figure out how to help. "We have a third assessment team in
looking at some very hard areas toward the north in Mali for another food
distribution," says Palmer. He's a little concerned because "I've
not heard from them; I was supposed to hear this week what the results were and where we would be going to make the distribution. So pray for that team."
The only hope many people in the Sahel have is that people who
care will respond to their need. Palmer says the fighting has been very
disruptive to their ongoing work. However, they can't quit. "Our acts of compassion, our acts of
kindness have opened up wonderful doors for us to be able to share the love of
Christ," Palmer says, noting, "That gives us the window of
opportunity to share truth in an area that very rarely has the chance to hear
The team is due to make their report on needs in northern Mali
soon. Please pray for what's next. "In
the midst of everything that's going on, it's hard to know exactly what to do [and] what's right. So we just need wisdom and knowledge from above to make good decisions."
Southern Baptists have already responded with an initiative in
Mali that will provide a six-month ration of grain and peanuts to help two
villages with a combined population of about 3,000. In coordination with local
leaders, three distributions will be conducted in each village over the course
of four to six months. The project is being funded by the World Hunger Fund.