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As African Sahel hunger crisis deepens, pleas for help grow

DAKAR, Senegal (BP) — The food crisis in Africa’s Sahel region is expected to remain critical throughout the summer, a United Nations relief official has announced. Southern Baptists are being asked to pray for those who are suffering near starvation and for the workers struggling to help them, and to give to the World Hunger Fund.

United Nations aid chief Valerie Amos met with the presidents of Senegal and Burkina Faso during a four-day trip to West Africa to assess the scope and impact of the emergency.

Some 800,000 people in northern Senegal are going hungry, while 2.8 million in the country of Burkina Faso need urgent help, Amos told the AFP news service May 24. Burkina Faso also has 60,000 refugees from neighboring Mali living in refugee camps. An estimated 18 million people are suffering from food shortages, and nearly 1.5 million children are near starvation, according to UN figures.

Southern Baptists have responded with an initiative in Mali that will provide a six-month ration of grain and peanuts to help two villages with a combined population of about 3,000. In coordination with local leaders, three distributions will be conducted in each village over the course of four to six months. The project is being funded with a $366,200 disbursement from the World Hunger Fund. Donations to the World Hunger Fund can be made at www.worldhungerfund.com.

“The humanitarian situation is expected to remain critical at least until the main harvest this autumn,” around September, Amos said, according to AFP. “We can do more to avoid the crisis from becoming a catastrophe in the region but to save more lives we need strong leadership … and continued generosity from the regional and humanitarian community.”

Hunger is a chronic problem in the Sahel, said Mark Hatfield, who directs work in Sub-Saharan Africa for Baptist Global Response with his wife, Susan,.

“In 2011, the rains came late or not at all over much of the region, and harvests have been very limited. One country estimates agricultural production may be down as much as 75 percent,” Hatfield said. “Families are running out of food quickly, food prices are skyrocketing, and malnutrition is reaching emergency levels, especially among infants and children.”

The only hope many people in the Sahel have is that people who care will respond to their need, said Jeff Palmer, BGR’s executive director.

“The most important thing Christians can do is to pray that God would miraculously provide the resources needed to avert a complete disaster,” Palmer said. “This crisis is massive and the international community has not yet risen to meet all the need. Our own resources through the World Hunger Fund are limited. Families in a dozen countries are desperate to know that we care about their plight.”

The Sahel is a 3,400 mile expanse that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, between the Sahara desert to the north and the savanna to the south. Its name derives from an Arabic word that means “shore” — the Sahel appears to run as a coastline along the southern edge of the Sahara’s ocean of sand. The Sahel covers parts of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, Cameroon and Eritrea.
Mark Kelly writes for Baptist Global Response, located on the Internet at www.gobgr.org. You can help save lives in this crisis by donating to World Hunger Fund at www.worldhungerfund.com. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Mark Kelly