The United Nations top humanitarian official is visiting the Sahel region of West Africa to draw attention to the plight of an estimated 10 million people facing a food and nutritional crisis as a result of poor harvests caused by long dry spells in the mostly arid part of the continent.
John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, began the first leg of his mission yesterday in Senegal, where he had talks with Government officials and regional representatives of humanitarian organizations on strengthening cooperation among the various aid agencies in the region.
He will also review the main areas of cooperation in disaster management, risk reduction and strengthening humanitarian coordination.
Mr. Holmes met with Mamadou Lamine Ba, Senegal's newly appointed minister for international and humanitarian affairs. More than 50 international humanitarian organizations are based in Senegal and Mr. Holmes noted that the country was better placed to promote a regional approach to humanitarian issues.
Mr. Holmes travelled to Niger today to assess the human impact of the serious food crisis affecting some 7.8 million people there, and request urgent response by donors to the appeal launched recently for an additional $133 million to respond to humanitarian needs.
He will visit Zinder area of southern Niger, one of the places worst affected by the food crisis, to meet with local people and visit nutritional centres.
While in Niger, Mr. Holmes will also draw attention to the humanitarian crisis facing some two million people in Chad, and request help for 258,000 Malians, 370,000 Mauritanians and vulnerable communities in northern Nigeria.
In addition to drawing attention to the need for resources to provide life-saving assistance, Mr. Holmes' visit will also focus on the need to address the root causes of the recurring food crisis in the region.
Investment in smallholder agriculture and rural infrastructure, strengthening poverty alleviation measures and disaster risk reduction in the context of climate change are some of the issues Mr. Holmes is will raise.
“The current food crisis, five years after the last emergency, shows that without joint action between development and humanitarian actors in support of responsible Governments to deal with the structural issues, it will become increasingly difficult to contain these recurrent crises, which do so much to undermine economic and social progress in the Sahel,” said Mr. Holmes.