"Even in good years, hunger is a chronic problem in the Sahel," said Mark Hatfield, who with his wife Susan directs work in Sub-Saharan Africa for Baptist Global Response. "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. Families will run out of food quickly, food prices will skyrocket and malnutrition will reach emergency levels, especially among infants and children."
At a Feb. 15 emergency meeting in Dakar, Senegal, government and relief group leaders called for a "rapid and robust response" to avoid a widespread famine, according to Reuters news service. "We are having an emergency meeting to avoid a full blown emergency," Josette Sheeran, head of the U.N. World Food Programme, said at a news conference.
UNICEF estimates more than 1 million children under age 5 will need treatment for severe acute malnutrition, according to Reuters.
Southern Baptists are being called to action to help save lives, said Jeff Palmer, Baptist Global Response executive director.
"Families in Sub-Saharan Africa suffer constantly from malnutrition, and the possibility of famine is never more than a few months away," Palmer said. "We saw millions of people in danger of starving this past fall in the Horn of Africa, and tens of thousands died. This crisis could be worse if steps are not taken now to head off the crisis.
"Because Southern Baptists cared enough to respond to the Horn of Africa famine, lives were spared," Palmer added. "We know God's Spirit will be moving in the hearts of people who care to reach out to endangered souls in the Sahel."
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.
The United States, Britain, Germany, Japan, Luxembourg and the European Union already have made cash donations to stave off the crisis, Reuters reported. International relief initiatives in the Sahel will include such measures as market gardens, seed distribution, well and irrigation projects, food for work, livestock vaccinations, community education and ready-to-use food therapies.
Mark Kelly writes for Baptist Global Response, on the Web at www.gobgr.org.
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