Africa (MNN) — Remember the Sahel? It’s an arid part of Africa that covers nine countries: parts of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, Cameroon, and Eritrea.
Remember the crisis? Several of the aforementioned countries were staggering under the weight of a man-made famine two summers ago. The region is vast, covering 3,400 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, between the Sahara desert to the north and the savanna to the south.
The United Nations says last year was rough, and 2014 won’t see much easement.
Baptist Global Response Executive Director Jeff Palmer says, “A lot of the things like the Syrian crisis, the Philippines Typhoon, the flooding–a lot of other things–are making the headlines in news.”
Just because there are hardly any stories on it anymore does not mean the Sahel famine situation has resolved, Palmer notes. “It’s one of those chronic, ongoing things that unless somebody’s beating the drums, we’re not looking at it. It’s kind of one of those things that creeps up on you.”
Around 16 million people are at risk of hunger despite good harvests and rainfall. “They only get rains for a short time each year, and then if you have a year that you miss it, you go two years without rain. That’s what happened in 2012,” explains Palmer.
“On top of that, you add the armed conflicts in the area. And then you get Internally Displaced Peoples, and you get refugees. On top of that, if you add the overall poverty pre-existent conditions that were there, you get this crucible of food insecurity.”
That could increase the number of people affected by 40% compared to 2013 if nothing changes. Last year, 11.3 million people had inadequate food and required around $1.7 billion in donor assistance, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) mobilized response, but as wars broke out, refugees flooded into camps, and hurricanes and typhoons took their toll, larger groups turned their focus to the newer crises. That left smaller groups like BGR and churches to network and resource carefully. Palmer says the response they mounted depended on the need. “We’re able to do something like feeding programs and some shelter for the Internally Displaced Folks in Mali. We’re working with a Christian group that had to flee an area. We were able to help them with about six months of food and lodging needs as they fled to the south.”
In other areas, it was “whole communities uproot and move, [and] you have huge education needs. So we worked with some schools, education projects, helping them get facilities and get materials to keep their kids in school.” And for still others, it was access to clean water. BGR helped drill water wells in some of these areas…which turned into something more. “A local saying there in one of the countries we’re working is: ‘Water is life.’ Yes, water IS life, but we also know a Living Water. It is a great platform to share the Gospel.”
Palmer urges believers not to forget the people who are starving in the Sahel region. Even as they work to help stabilize smaller communities, they know it’s a matter of time before they’re dealing with another Level 3 crisis. “We’re looking at the same thing happening, more than likely, in the next two to three years. They’re going to get another bad year and it’s going to be right on top of this one. We would say now would be a great time to get involved. Let’s be proactive.”
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