CWS Emergency Situation Report: Sahel (Africa) Food Crisis

April 13, 2012

Tahya Wellet Etawantaw, 30, and her husband are struggling to feed their five daughters even one meal a day in Tin'Akoff village, Burkina Faso. Photo: Christian Aid

Tahya Wellet Etawantaw, 30, and her husband are struggling to feed their five daughters even one meal a day in Tin’Akoff village, Burkina Faso. Photo: Christian Aid


A deepening food crisis is affecting an estimated 12 million people concentrated primarily in the West African region of the Sahel, with the fear that famine is imminent.

The governments of Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Chad and Niger have already declared states of emergency and called for international assistance.

The United Nations says that a shortfall of more than 500,000 tons of grain and 10 million tons of animal feed has left up to 6 million people at risk of hunger in Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries. In Burkina Faso, the deficit could leave as many as 2 million people at risk. Pastoralists, mothers and children under the age of five are the most vulnerable groups at risk.

“There is a sense of despair because people literally don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” said Paul Valentin, the international director of CWS partner and fellow ACT Alliance member Christian Aid, who was in Burkina Faso recently.

A series of interrelated developments have reinforced each other, compounding food insecurity in the region: cyclical droughts, severe flooding, crop failure, rising food prices, and depleted grain and livestock reserves resulting from previous years’ crises have undermined people’s ability to survive the regular lean period that usually begins in May or June.

This situation has been further exacerbated by the spillover effects of political turmoil and conflict in Cote d’Ivoire and Libya. Clashes in Mali between Tuareg rebels and soldiers have left more than 60,000 people internally displaced and a similar number have fled to Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Algeria, placing further strain on already depleted water reserves and animal pastures in these neighboring countries.

Food scarcity is a chronic problem in the region and this emerging crisis comes on the heels of major international aid interventions in 2005 and 2010. Until the structural factors that contribute to regular food shortages are eradicated, many parts of West Africa will remain vulnerable to famine, observers say.


CWS is responding to the crisis through Christian Aid, which is providing food to those most in need and treating malnourished children in Burkina Faso. Christian Aid also is initiating cash-for-work programs in Mali where the most vulnerable receive seeds and prepare their land to withstand drought. CWS-supported programs by Christian Aid will also focus on a response in Niger and Senegal. A comprehensive CWS appeal will be issued in the coming weeks, which will include more details of the response.

How to help:

Financial contributions to support CWS emergency response efforts around the world may be made online, sent to your denomination, or to Church World Service, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515.

Church World Service is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of churches and agencies engaged in development, humanitarian assistance and advocacy.