Every year, during the hunger season, this sound becomes deafening in the Sahel, threatening 30 million people.
We work to make it stop. Before, during and after the hunger season.
Help us make it stop.
Seasonal hunger is a period of time when food is scarce. It takes place every year in countries where the population depends on subsistence farming. Food reserves from the previous harvest are dwindling and a lack of products means prices go up.
Just before, water becomes scarce and families have problems with maintaining proper hygiene levels. This leads to an increase in diarrhoea-based illnesses that mean people are more vulnerable in terms of their health when dealing with what is to come. Seasonal hunger also coincides with the beginning of the rainy season, which increases the likelihood of stagnant water appearing, meaning the number of cases of malaria and other diseases shoots up. Sufferers are more vulnerable to malnutrition as they cannot retain and absorb nutrients.
And there are still five months to go before the next harvest. Five months of silent, predictable and avoidable hunger. A threat to more than 30 million of the Sahel’s people, in a region where 5 million children are already suffering from malnutrition.
Seasonal hunger affects families that do not suffer from hunger at other times of year and increases the pressure on those who suffer regularly and the most vulnerable.
One in two people is poor in the Sahel. When crop reserves are lacking at market and prices go up, food becomes more unattainable for this 50% of the population. Those without land or livestock are even more exposed.
If they are also unable to access healthcare or water and sanitation services because they do not exist or they cannot pay for them, risks increase and solutions become more complicated.
In the Sahel region, 5 million children suffer from malnutrition. Seasonal hunger is increasing this figure every year, placing lives at risk and causing irreparable damage to survivors’ physical and cognitive development.
Recovery is slow and incomplete, which means that every year, as the new hunger season arrives, these children’s situation becomes more serious and is increasingly compromised.
Malnutrition is an illness caused by hunger. It affects more than 200 million children worldwide and is related to half of childhood deaths. The most serious condition of all–severe acute malnutrition–kills 8500 children every day.
Understanding the causes that lead to malnutrition helps us prevent these avoidable deaths and avoid any future side-effects for survivors. We must analyse the different causes while also understanding how they connect and lead to hunger in each specific context.
Seasonal hunger happens during the months when aggravating causes and factors come together, leading to a hike in cases of malnutrition.
The taxes Europeans pay contribute to saving lives by becoming the European Union’s humanitarian budget, which is used to fund the relief work carried out by aid organisations. Every year, the EU’s humanitarian office (ECHO) covers around 40% of food aid needs in the Sahel.
During the months when supplies are scarce, the prices of food go up and the poorest families cannot maintain a proper diet. We distribute money and enriched foods so the most vulnerable members 3-4 children under 5 and pregnant and breastfeeding women 3-4 are not exposed to malnutrition.
Getting to the health centre is a challenge for many families, not only because of the distance, but also due to the added cost. In rainy season, moving around is even more difficult. We work with community health actors and train them to identify and treat malnutrition in their communities. That way, more children receive treatment and recover sooner.
Malnutrition does not only lead to physical damage, but it also has an impact on psychological and social development, with the risk of a breaking of the emotional bond between mother and child. Children in hospital receive nutritional treatment while also receiving psychosocial stimulation through activities and games. Their families take part and get support in order to adapt to caring for their child.
We work in areas that are difficult to access. We cannot always diagnose malnutrition in the beginning and sometimes children come to our centres in a critical condition. We teach mothers to easily identify malnutrition using MUAC, a tape that measures arm circumference, so they can react to malnutrition in their own or in other children.
Malaria and malnutrition coincide during the hunger season, becoming two of the diseases responsible for the most deaths among children under 5. A child suffering from malaria is more likely to become malnourished. Treating children once a month with preventive medication means we can avoid malaria and lower the risk of them suffering from malnutrition.
We gather information about biomass, rains, surface water, animal movement and markets and combine this with community surveys. The warning comes earlier and we can organise better responses in order to protect people and their resources so they can survive.
The arrival in southern Mauritania of refugees from Mali escaping violence leads to many challenges. They include access to safe and sufficient water, which is key to guaranteeing survival, preventing disease and protecting people’s dignity. In the Mbera camp, 8 tanks provide water to its almost 50,000 inhabitants.
In Nigeria alone, 400,000 people could die from starvation and 11 million need urgent food aid. The conflict with Boko Haram affects 20 million people in the region, almost 3 million of whom are displaced from their homes. We provide them with assistance related to food, nutrition and water and sanitation.
Local governments implement, as far as they can, systems to protect their most vulnerable citizens in the toughest times with subsidies, education and health, employment and promoting and protecting women… We support their development and extension as a key way of solving the chronic crisis in the Sahel.
The causes of malnutrition are different in every location. That is why we decided to invest in a structured method of analysis, with a science committee drawing up a protocol that gathers the perceptions of technical experts and community members. That way, backed by scientific evidence, we design better solutions to save more lives.
Action Against Hunger
Alicia García +34 91 391 53 06 / Nuria Berro +34 91 771 16 63
Daniel Puglisi +32 229 691 40 / Carlos Martín Ruiz de Gordejuela +32 229 653 22