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Published on 06 June, 2012

Sahel food crisis worsens

Mali
(MNN) — Take a coup, add months of fighting down a Tuareg rebellion, stir in the
Islamists, bake under two to three years of drought, and you have no clear idea
of who's in charge in Mali.

The
conditions are a recipe for the failed state of Somalia. Worse yet, the role of Somalia in the Horn of
Africa's food crisis turned a natural disaster into a man-made famine. 

Is that what's in store for the Sahel region? Baptist Global Response executive director
Jeff Palmer says, "The numbers are
not quite as high as what we were seeing happening over Somalia. Our prayers would be that rains would start
and we would not see those numbers, but indicators are that those numbers are
going to come."

The situation is expected to remain critical over the next three to
five months. According to the
U.N. refugee agency, the refugees
fleeing the conflict in Mali have created enough need for the agency to more
than quadruple its aid appeal.

The U.N. estimates some 800,000 people in northern Senegal are
going hungry, while 2.8 million in Burkina Faso need urgent help. Burkina
Faso also has 60,000 refugees from neighboring Mali living in refugee camps. An
estimated 18 million people are suffering from food shortages, and nearly
1.5 million children are near starvation. Palmer explains, "What
we're trying to do is really respond to these folks who are coming to
population centers for food, and respond to them in a way that gets them some
basic supplies."

"We've got this complex humanitarian situation where you've
got armed conflict, drought, and then you've got serious drought hitting this
year. This is why we put out an appeal
not just for the Horn of Africa, but an appeal for famine in Africa because
this could be brewing toward a 'perfect storm.'"

Southern
Baptists have 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 with a $366,200 disbursement from the World Hunger Fund.

Aid teams could face yet another challenge. It appears that the Tuareg rebellion is being
met by better-armed Islamists who are being joined by other militants. As
Somalia and Afghanistan are already experiencing similar situations, missions to get refugee supplies through militant strongholds intact are likely
to be disrupted.  

Palmer agrees. "We've
actually had to delay some of the food dispersals because of security in the
area. In the end, it's not the organization that suffers, it's the people who
really need to get food for their families." Not only that, but wearing the name of Christ could
also be risky. Local believers are part
of the distribution network. 

Danger won't stop their partners because there's a lot at stake,
Palmer adds. "It does open up all kinds of doors. An act of kindness in the name of Christ, a
cup of cold water, food given to the hungry: it's sort of like the Word of God
never comes back void. That act in the name of Christ will never come back
void, either."

The
task is huge. The 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.

You
can help save lives in this crisis by donating to BGR's
Africa Famine Relief Fund
or the World
Hunger Fund
.

*Jeff Palmer tells about one woman's response to BGR's help.  If you want to hear it, go to our interviews
and click on the "Whooping Woman" file.

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