Don't Forget About The Sahel Babies

This week global humanitarian leaders gathered at WFP's Rome headquarters to assess achievements in the Sahel region of West Africa, which one year ago was facing a devastating drought. Straight after the Rome event, which produced a joint commitment to continue working together in the drought-prone region, WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin wrote this blog.

ROME -- Babies did not starve in the Sahel. There are no new pictures of flies on the eyes of children from Mali or Niger suffering from severe acute malnutrition leading the nightly news. In 2012, we as an international community following the country-led alarm responded together and met the challenges. We knew our failure to act would potentially result in famine at worst or a significant increase in the number of hungry and malnourished women and children at best.

Woman smiling and weighing a baby

The global media stepped up. Television crews, bloggers, radio personalities from around the world brought attention to our publics across the globe of the pressing needs. Together the media generated a collective cry demanding donor attention resulting in an investment of resources which facilitated our ability to meet people’s immediate needs. We provided the food and non-food assistance required to make a difference in the lives of those who this time last year were then facing the looming challenges of another failed harvest. As UN Humanitarian actors working together we went beyond filling bellies, providing shelter and clean water. 

We implemented programs that have begun to provide a ray of hope. Hope that one day a mother and a father can grow enough food to feed their children and send them to school while meeting the families other essential needs. Hope that one day a failed harvest will not require selling the family’s meagre possessions to fill a child’s hungry stomach. 

Tell the stories

To continue shining, that ray of hope requires that the world not forget the babies of the Sahel. Despite the evolving political challenges in the region, the ray of hope requires that the media continues to tell these children’s stories so that the global donor community continues to invest in the programs that are working. Also, we as global humanitarian and development leaders must continue working together. 

West African girl smiling

This week the global leaders including Baroness Valerie Amos, OCHA Under Secretary-General, Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator, Nancy Lindborg, USAID Assistant Administrator, Kristalina Georgieva, ECHO European Commissioner and Romano Prodi, UN Special Envoy for the Sahel as well as leaders from every country in the Sahel came together to assess what we got right over the last year, what lessons we learned, but most importantly committing our institutions and governments to continuing our work together. There were few cameras in the room. In fact few journalists even covered the story. There is no news when we are working together to get it right. 

But people around the globe must know. We must work together to build global awareness of what was accomplished as well as what we must do going forward. When they know the problems and the opportunities, people do care not just about their own children but about babies in remote places including the Sahel. No there are no pictures of mothers’ holding babies with bloated stomachs and flies on their eyes. Working together we can avoid, no we can eliminate the possibilities of any mother experiencing this pain in the future.


(All photos copyright WFP/Rein Skullerud)