Deadly famine in Sahel: ECOWAS and African Union, please take note


Rodrigue Koffi

The World Health Organization (WHO), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are asking the international community for at least US $700 million to help them deal with the humanitarian crisis in the Sahel. Due to the urgency of the situation and public apathy - demonstrated by the fact that less than 50% of this amount has been raised so far - these UN agencies launched an appeal against “global indifference” on Tuesday 10 April 2012.

According to Anthony Lake, the Executive Director of UNICEF, there is a “ a 'certain fatigue' among the public when it comes to the Sahel; once more there is a famine, once more African children are dying, and people are tired of hearing that.” Yet, 95% of the almost 1.5 million children suffering from severe malnutrition in the region could be saved, says Margaret Chan, the Director-General of WHO. This could be done by "opening 24-hour care centres and mobile clinics to treat cases of malnutrition, diarrhoea, pneumonia, malaria and meningitis", she adds. António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, regrets that “this region is receiving little attention from the media", who are mostly “focused on the situation in Syria”.

But to take a wider view of the situation, this global indifference is also being shown by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU). Over the past few weeks, these two organizations, one subregional and the other regional, have turned their attention to other issues in the region: the recent presidential elections in Senegal, where fears of widespread violence have been brushed aside by the maturity of the Senegalese people; the threat posed by the Boko Haram sect in Nigeria; and above all the political and military situation in Mali since the coup of 22 March 2012. With regard to the latter issue, ECOWAS has been in the vanguard of efforts to ensure, less than three weeks after the coup, that constitutional order is restored in Mali with the swearing-in this week of the President of the National Assembly as Mali’s interim president.

This subregional organization remains committed to the “complete liberation” of Mali, which faces partition with the north of the country currently under the control of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA). In short, ECOWAS and the AU are concerned about the Sahel merely because it has become Africa’s new powder keg, Courrier International notes.

Yet it appears that absolutely nothing is actually being done by these two organizations about the humanitarian crisis in the Sahel. It would almost seem that Africa is once again following the erroneous path of silence or even denial if not indifference, as initially happened in 2011 with the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa.

Today, therefore, we want to convey a message to Africa, ECOWAS and the AU: the world is watching you, your children in the Sahel are watching you.

Photo: © UNICEF/NYHQ2012-0190/Olivier Asselin, Niger, 2012

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