Humanitarian Emergency in the Sahel: Act now to save lives

2012-02-15 Vatican Radio

Leaders of UN agencies and representatives of the European Commission called on Wednesday for an urgent scale up of humanitarian, rehabilitation and development assistance to aid those who are being affected by severe drought in the Sahel region of West Africa.

They made the appeal at the headquarters of the World Food Programme here in Rome from where Lydia O’Kane reports.

“Act together, Act now”, that was the message of leaders of United Nations agencies, the European Commission and USAID on the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Sahel region of West Africa.

Following an emergency meeting at the headquarters of the World Food Programme (WFP) in Rome on Wednesday, participants told journalists that they were making the call for united action now before a full blown disaster occurs.

Countries in the Sahel region such as the Niger, Mauritania, Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso have been suffering from a severe drought which has been compounded by food shortages and rising food prices.

Executive Director of the World Food Programme, Josette Sheeran spoke about the priorities of WFP.

" Well the World Food Programme will seek to reach 8 million people in the coming months. We will do that through a variety of food interventions and cash and vouchers..."

The European Commission has made a 30 million euro contribution to aid efforts in the Sahel.

Former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Administrator of the UN Development Programme UNDP, who is travelling to Niger, says she is confident the international community will also respond to the humanitarian call. "I have absolute conviction that the international community will rally for the Sahel".

The plight of the people living in the Sahel has also reached the Pope Benedict himself. Just last week he called on the international community to ,as he put it, “seriously address the extreme poverty of these people whose living conditions are deteriorating.”

Josette Sheeran says the voice of the Pope is of great importance. "We're very moved that his Holiness the Pope addressed this issue"

All of the participants gathered agreed that lessens learnt from the Horn of Africa crisis and an integrated strategy can save lives and build a better future for the people of this region. Listen to Lydia O'Kane's report