Jim Clarken: We have power to halt a crisis -- we just need will
Published 14/02/2012 | 05:00
WE have been here before. The spectre of hunger is once again stalking the people of the Sahel, at the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. Early warning systems point to the risk of a major food crisis in the region, potentially affecting 10 million people. This time, though, there is the chance to re-write the end of a tragically familiar story, by responding now to the risk of humanitarian disaster, rather than waiting until it unfolds.
Late and irregular rainfall, followed by plagues of birds, locusts and other pests have decimated the harvests of poor farmers and made pasture scarce for herders. Cereal production in the five countries of the region -- Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Chad -- is down by a quarter from last year and is well below the five-year average. National food reserves exist, but they hold nowhere near the quantity needed to mitigate the deficit.
Even if the markets were well stocked, the prices of cereals are 10 to 40pc higher than usual and the most vulnerable families spend up to 80pc of their income on food.