West Africa: Hunger crisis deepens

Even as the deadly drought subsides in the Horn of Africa, vulnerable communities are already feeling the effects of a food crisis in West Africa, long before its expected peak in the next several months.

West Africa update by James Addis. Horn of Africa update by Samuel Mochona.
Published January 20, 2012 at 12:00am PST

In Africa, there is often a period of time between when a family’s stores from their last harvest runs out and when their new crop is ready to eat. These are the hungry months.

Expensive, store-bought food is purchased and carefully rationed. Those who can’t buy food depend on neighbors, relatives, churches, and food distributions.

And if there’s a drought, crops fail, or rains are late, those hungry months can turn into a hungry year. This is the case for communities in the Horn of Africa, which is recovering from severe drought and famine, and communities in West Africa, where drought is just settling in.

West Africa

In southwestern Mauritania, even one meal a day has become a luxury that many families cannot afford. Many families’ food supplies are running low, and prices in the market are skyrocketing.

Mariama Mbojah and her daughter in Mauritania struggle to find food to eat.Mariama Mbojah — a woman in her late 30s whose husband is blind and cannot work — says she is finding it difficult to feed her three children. “Even today as we speak, they are going to sleep on an empty stomach,” she says.

Stories like Mariama’s are common throughout West Africa, which is currently facing a severe food shortage following poor rains.

“We’re seeing parents forced to make decisions about the safety or education of one child to feed another,” says Paul Sitnam, emergency director with World Vision in West Africa.

“For some families, getting through the crisis means choosing which child will get to eat that night and which will have to wait with an empty belly until the next day.”

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS-NET) predicts that food insecurity will begin to rise to “crisis levels” as early as March 2012 and is calling for targeted food assistance for at least the next six months.

World Vision urges the international community to take action now so the situation doesn’t become as deadly as the famine and drought in the Horn of Africa.

Horn of Africa

Weinhareg stands with her son at their maize farm. She says the harvest has been delayed by at least two months due to late rains, so they have nothing to eat.This year, dry seasons have lasted longer, and rain has come late in southern and southeastern parts of Ethiopia. As a result, harvests have failed or been delayed.

To cope with the problem, people in affected areas are selling their animals and other assets. Weinhareg Mulugeta is one such person. She has nothing to feed her seven children.

The failure of the sweet potato harvest and poor crop results from beans, green maize, and other vegetables has left families vulnerable. The drought-induced reduction in livestock production has resulted in increased cases of malnutrition. Increased grain prices have made it harder for people to access food.

As a result, more than 4.5 million people in Ethiopia require food aid.

World Vision is responding to the crisis with the provision of grain, supplementary food, seeds, livestock, and medical support to the affected people.

“The [seasonal] rain should have started in February,” says Weinhareg. “This year, it delayed until May. As a result, the harvest delayed two or three months.”

She continues, “You can see our farm here. Look, there are vegetables, haricot beans, and maize. But, we have to wait two to three months for them to mature as food. That is why we don’t have any food. All the villagers are in a similar status. All the households you see in the neighborhood do not have any food.”

Weinhareg adds that her family has resorted to selling their animals and other assets in order to feed their children. “The price of grain is very high, and we couldn’t buy much with the money. Our assets were very limited, and now they are finished,” she says.

Our response

World Vision is working in both regions to address the food shortages with things like:

  • Life-saving nutrition programs for children
  • Food distribution to low-income families
  • Vaccinating livestock to preserve families’ livelihoods
  • Distributing seeds to farmers
  • Drilling additional wells to increase access to clean water


Three ways you can help

Please pray for families in West Africa who are impacted by this looming food crisis, and for those in the Horn in Africa who are still suffering from the drought and food crisis there during the past year. Pray that all would find the nutrition they need. Pray that organizations would be able to work together to help avert a major crisis in West Africa.

Make a one-time gift to help provide life-saving food and care to hungry children. Your donation will help deliver emergency food aid, agricultural support, and more to children and families at risk from food shortages.

Give monthly to provide assistance for children suffering from hunger. Your monthly contribution will help provide critical interventions like emergency food aid, agricultural assistance, clean water, and more to those in greatest need.