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Europe

EU steps up humanitarian aid to Africa's Sahel region

Millions of people in Africa's Sahel region are suffering a severe famine, made worse by erratic rainfall. The EU's humanitarian aid commissioner says the time to act is now, before the situation gets worse.

A farmer in Sudan

The EU is sounding the alarm about hunger in Africa

European Union officials say as many as million people are facing severe hunger in Africa's Sahel region, the belt, which stretches across the grasslands, savannas and steppes of Northern Africa, linking the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Red Sea to the east.

The European Commission has warned the situation - particularly in Niger and Chad - is getting worse by the day.

The crisis in Africa's Sahel region began with last year's erratic rainfall, which brought a drastic decline in food production, reducing crops by 35 percent. The European Commission has responded by stepping up its humanitarian assistance bringing the amount for this year to 54 million euros ($66 million).

Rising prices

The European commissioner responsible for humanitarian aid, Kristalina Georgieva, said the help was meant to be preventative.

"There is a need to help countries in extraordinary circumstances, and hopefully act before a bad situation turns into a catastrophe," Georgieva told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday.

EU designated International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva

Georgieva wants to see action before the situation gets worse


For the Sahel region, climate change is not the only problem. Food prices have risen by 30 percent in the last five years. The economic crisis has made matters even worse. Remittances have collapsed and incomes are drastically down.

The EU's humanitarian aid commissioner said the population needed urgent help to survive the period until the next harvest in November.

Eat local

As a first priority, the EU aid is to go towards preventing malnutrition in children and pregnant women.

The Commission also wants to identify the people most at risk from famine, and make sure they can access health services, and work on early diagnoses.

The EU's humanitarian aid commissioner said as much as food as possible would be sourced from the region, to stimulate the local farming economy- part of a broader long-term development strategy.

"The last couple of years we have gone up from almost a third to almost half of food aid being locally-purchased," Georgieva said.

Quality over quantity

In addition, humanitarian efforts are to shift the focus to the nutritional quality of the food, rather than on sheer quantity.

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"If you are led by just quantity, you may not do your job, because the food doesn't do anything for improved nutrition," the EU humanitarian aid commissioner said.

The European Union prides itself on being the world's biggest aid donor, but some fear that of the current economic crisis could result in European governments backing away from aid pledges. The EU is increasingly keen for emerging powers like China to become humanitarian actors, rather than aid recipients.

Above all, the European Commission insists that it wants to prevent disasters from happening, and make sure aid is not just spent, but invested in the future.

Author: Nina-Maria Potts(smh)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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