Sahel (MNN/BGR) — “Only God can repay you.” (Malian proverb/blessing)
Aid groups worldwide are rallying to head off a major hunger crisis that threatens as many as 20 million souls in Africa’s Sahel region. But the calls are falling on deaf ears.
Baptist Global Response Executive Director Jeff Palmer describes the area in question. “We’re talking about the arid regions: the Sahara desert over in West Africa. It’s a large area, but it’s primarily looking at the countries of Mali, Chad, Nigeria, Niger, and a few others where there’s been cyclic hunger compounded especially because of armed conflict.”
A humanitarian appeal for Mali calls for US$377 million to address the most pressing needs throughout the country. It is the second-highest appeal of the nine countries of the Sahel region. To date, merely a third of the financial requirements have been met.
The Sahel stretches across 3,400 mile from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, between the Sahara desert to the north and the savanna to the south. Its name is an Arabic word that means “shore,” but water is hard to come by. It’s also why many of these countries are in perpetual hunger. “You’ve got the drought that is cyclic, and it’s more intense, and the cycles are getting shorter and shorter because of deforestation. You’ve got population pressures that are getting hard, and they’re adding to the problems. Then you add the armed conflict: it’s the perfect storm. That’s probably the best way to describe this.”
Christians are being called to action to help save lives, says Palmer. However, because the crisis has dragged on for years, the urgency has faded, too. It’s precisely why BGR stepped up their efforts to respond. The global boredom greeting the near famine has revealed a generational emergency. In many of these countries, the men stayed home to protect their land, joined the fight, or were killed in it.
Palmer says, “We also look for those groups that are the most vulnerable: widows, orphans, those that are fleeing the armed conflict, those who are relocated–either internally displaced or refugees–who we really do a lot of our serious work with.”
BGR also targets areas that are overlooked by the larger Non-Government Organizations. In one village, Palmer recalls this response to the food stuffs their teams dropped off. “We just hear where these camps would sing all night long with joy–just rejoicing because somebody cared enough to give them food for the day, for the week, for the month.” Keep in mind, “In many places, these folks have really never heard a ‘good news’ story. They’re definitely not living in good news. They’re living in bad news because of all that’s going on. We go in, and we’re able to share the food and to share the love and compassion and a tangible ministry like food packets for them.”
One gift makes a big difference to one family caught up in the whirlwind of trouble in Sahel. Palmer explains, “We’re talking about how people can make a difference, seeing the overwhelming needs that are there. A $50 food packet with rice and staples basically [is] helping to sustain a family of 4-5 for a month.” BGR’s prayer from the beginning has been that this food would be seen given by Jesus and not simply the Americans. In an earlier distribution, villagers told the BGR team, “We thought you’d forgotten about us. We were told you went back to America and didn’t care.”
Palmer adds that the just-in-time delivery in one situation a while back prompted an on-the-spot season of worship. “The song they sang, though, was the sweetest: “Who brought us corn? Who brought us peanuts? Who brought us millet? Jesus did!”
This is why they made the connection: “Our workers are representatives of the local church, or they’re followers of Christ, and they give compassion. After they get it [the food], they [villagers] don’t sing praises to the workers: they sing praises to Jesus because Jesus gave food to survive another week, another day, maybe another month.”