As the hunger crisis deepens in eight countries of the Sahel region, humanitarian aid should be increasing. But this is not the case in parts of the drought-stricken area. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) relies exclusively on voluntary donations and in Mauritania school meals for children have been reduced by the WFP due to low funding.
The WFP's March distribution of food to schools in Mauritania was supposed to provide 54 days of meals to the students but, without sufficient resources, the WFP had to reduce the number of days children could receive meals to 40.
WFP runs the school feeding for around 150,000 students in nine rural areas where there is malnutrition and poverty, and the meals provided are meant to keep the children in school, especially at a time when drought and high prices have made it much harder for families to get food. Without enough funding, however, these students are constantly vulnerable to reduced rations.
Furthermore, with no summer feeding programme available at present, these children and their families will head into the peak period of the Sahel hunger crisis with one fewer source of food. A programme of summer take-home rations would provide a much-needed safety net for the 150,000 students and their families, and would be a crucial addition to ongoing WFP relief operations such as the provision of Plumpy'sup, a special food to help combat potentially life-threatening malnutrition in infants.
One of the areas in Mauritania where the WFP provides school meals is Hodh ech Chargui where there are 120,000 Mauritanians in this area – 37% of the population – suffering from hunger.
The severe drought conditions are hard enough to cope with, but there are even more challenges. Hodh ech Chargui is also hosting more than 63,000 refugees from a conflict in the neighbouring country of Mali. Mauritania and other neighbouring countries are seeing a daily influx of refugees from Mali and the UN World Food Programme's director, Ertharin Cousin, who just visited the Sahel region, said she met a refugee who said, "everybody wants to leave Mali”. But while the stream of refugees from Mali is expected to continue, the WFP is facing an 86% shortage of funds to feed these refugees.
Funding for humanitarian aid has to start flowing more rapidly. The international community has to act now to fund all relief operations and to be prepared for an increasing number of refugees. If the world acts now, it can help prevent a famine in the Sahel this summer.
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