Drought in Africa Has Spread to Sahel

By: Justin Chan

News of the famine and drought in Africa has not been promising. Since last summer, region after region has fallen victim to the drought that first affected Ethiopia and Somalia, next spread to the Sudan and is now affecting countries in the Sahel region.

According to CNN, like other recent social media campaigns, UNICEF recently took to the internet to promote a crusade it calls #SahelNOW. It has asked users of Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media to share a video that addresses the scarcity of food that affects approximately 1 million children that live in the region. The Sahel is a relatively obscure strip of land located near the Sahara Desert and experiences frequent droughts. Along with countries like Senegal and Chad, it currently faces a number of dire circumstances, including poverty, drought and displacement. At least 10 million people are in danger of dying of starvation.

Although the Sahel is rich in resources, it has also become victim to political upheaval. As The Guardian points out, a military coup in Mali, an uprising in Libya and a series of terrorist attacks in Nigeria have all contributed to the region's deteriorating conditions. The Sahel is gradually becoming home to more and more separatists, who have forced many from Mali and other areas to flee.

"These are families who have had to hastily flee the violence and they don't have access to basic products like clothing, blankets or cooking utensils. In one out of every five families there is at least one child suffering from severe acute malnutrition," said Helen Valencia, Action Against Hunger's emergency team leader. "The conflict in the north is an aggravating factor to an already fragile situation."

The political friction, along with the famine, have forced many to take extreme measures to cope with the dire situation. "People are trying to cope with that by selling their personal belongings -- cattle, livestock," said David Gressly, UNICEF's regional director. "They're pulling children out of school to adapt to this."

Although several agencies have worked to provide aid to the region, funds have come up short. The Food and Agriculture Organization said it only raised $10.3 million of the $75.4 million it needed to help the 4.7 million individual beneficiaries. UNICEF has asked governments worldwide to help it reach its goal of $120 million, but it has only received $30 million so far. It maintains that sufficient financial aid will dramatically change the lives of those in the region.

"We have the technology and the knowledge to treat these children who suffer from severe acute malnutrition very effectively," said Werner Schultink, chief of nutrition at UNICEF.

For more information on how you can help, visit UNICEF's website.

Photo: European Union Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection

For more updates on Africa, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)