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Funding gap threatens efforts to assist millions facing hunger in Africa – UN official

A field of withered crops in Mali’s Kayes region.
WFP/Daouda Guirou
A field of withered crops in Mali’s Kayes region.

Funding gap threatens efforts to assist millions facing hunger in Africa – UN official

A major funding gap is threatening efforts to boost food security and development in the Sahel region of West Africa and in the Horn of Africa in the east, a senior United Nations official warned today.

The Horn of Africa, which includes countries such as Somalia and Djibouti, experienced a food crisis last year that left an estimated 13 million people dependent on humanitarian assistance. Currently there are 15 million people facing food insecurity in the Sahel, which stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, and includes countries such as Niger and Mali.

“In the Horn of Africa we are losing the window of opportunity to build on our recent achievements – which helped to overcome the famine declared last year in Somalia – increasing the resilience of families facing drought,” said the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), José Graziano da Silva, in remarks to the Foro Nueva Economía international economic forum in Madrid.

The FAO chief said that boosting food security involved combining emergency action with support for family farming and smallholder production, promoting development initiatives in the long term, and reducing vulnerability to extreme events.

With one in every seven people in the world suffering from chronic hunger and malnutrition, “fighting hunger is a challenge too great for FAO or any government to overcome alone,” Mr. Graziano da Silva added. “It must involve civil society, private enterprise, international agencies, and the governments of developing and developed countries. For this reason we have opened the doors of FAO to new allies with whom we share a common set of principles.”

Earlier this week, the heads of the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) wrapped up a visit to Niger by issuing a call to the international community to meet its commitments, both financial as well as political, to help those in need.

“The window of opportunity to save lives is narrowing by the day,” WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin and High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in a joint statement. “The time to act is now.”

They added that despite early response from donors, the needs remain great, the hunger season has started early and plans to help those at risk, whether local communities or refugees, are still “significantly underfunded.”