Hunger and drought creep across northern Africa

In Africa, there is often a period of time between when a family’s stores from their last harvest runs out and when their new crop is ready to eat. These are known as the "hungry months."

Expensive, store-bought food is purchased and carefully rationed. Those who can’t buy food depend on neighbors, relatives, churches, and food distributions. And if there’s a drought, crops fail, or rains are late, those hungry months can turn into a hungry year.

This is the case for communities in the Horn of Africa (Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Somalia), which is recovering from a historic drought and food crisis, and communities in West Africa (Niger, Mauritania, Mali, Chad, and Senegal), where drought is just settling in.

Horn of Africa: The beginning of the end

A skeletal cow in Kenya illustrates the effects of last year's devastating drought in the Horn of Africa.

Beginning last summer, a historic drought across the Horn of Africa spurred a food crisis and, in some areas of Somalia, famine. The United Nations recently declared the famine to be over, and conditions are improving, but children and families remain at risk. World Vision continues to respond in devastated areas of Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia.

As of January, some 11.5 million people affected by the drought were still in need of assistance in those countries.

Due to favorable and mostly above-average rains between October and December, along with high levels of humanitarian assistance, some of these areas have shown considerable improvements in food security conditions. However, the food security outlook for the Horn of Africa through March remains fragile because of successive seasons of failed rains, conflict, livestock disease, above-normal food and non-food prices, and flooding.

With the support of generous donors, World Vision continues to help save lives and sustain livelihoods through interventions, such as:

  • Distributing therapeutic food, in partnership with the World Food Program, especially for children and women
  • Improving water and sanitation by trucking in water, rehabilitating wells, and providing water storage tanks
  • Providing assistance for refugees and displaced families in camps
  • Supporting agriculture by providing seeds and food for livestock
  • Promoting practices to make land more drought-resistant

Even as the deadly drought subsides in the Horn of Africa, vulnerable communities are already feeling the effects of a food crisis in West Africa, long before its expected peak in the next several months.

West Africa: Preparing for life-threatening food shortages

At a clinic in Niger, a baby is weighed to test for malnutrition.

About 23 million people spread across the region in countries such as Niger, Mauritania, Mali, Chad, and Senegal are either already facing desperate food shortages or are in imminent danger of such shortages.

In southwestern Mauritania, even one meal a day has become a luxury that many families cannot afford. Many families’ food supplies are running low, and prices in the market are skyrocketing.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS-NET) predicts that food insecurity will begin to rise to “crisis levels” as early as this month and is calling for targeted food assistance for at least the next six months.

“We’re seeing parents forced to make decisions about the safety or education of one child to feed another,” says Paul Sitnam, emergency director with World Vision in West Africa.

“For some families, getting through the crisis means choosing which child will get to eat that night and which will have to wait with an empty belly until the next day.”

World Vision has extensive programs in Niger, Mauritania, Mali, and Chad designed to bring relief to immediate needs and to improve long-term food security. Response activities include:

  • Nutrition programs for children
  • Free food distribution
  • Vaccinating livestock
  • Distributing seeds
  • Drilling additional wells
  • Educating parents to help them keep their children healthy
  • Providing additional livestock -- much of it through World Vision Gift Catalog donations

Together with our partners, we plan to reach some 1.7 million people with emergency aid.

You can make a one-time gift to help provide life-saving food and care to hungry children. Your donation will help deliver emergency food aid, agricultural support, and more to children and families at risk from food shortages.

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