Famine still haunts the region – can more be done to help?

Famine still haunts the region – can more be done to help?
Kieran Baker

Pictures tell a thousand words, and TV images take the level of attention to a different level. As a teenager that’s how I remember the first images of distress and hunger; the BBC TV pictures of famine in Ethiopia in 1984 were so devastating that it created a worldwide reaction. Live Aid and Sir Bob Geldof’s determination to bring attention to the plight of millions, was an inspiring moment in history which shaped the first major global TV event – a chance to raise money for action to be taken.  

Yet here we are 40 years on, and famine is still a major concern across the Maghreb and swaths of Africa. Warnings continue to be made, statements by aid agencies try to bring awareness yet we still have some startling statistics to deal with. 

Across Sudan, 18 million people – more than a third of the population – are going hungry. A week ago, Rein Paulsen, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, visiting Sudan, said “we are here because the risk of famine is real”. To determine a level of hunger there is a scale that the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) provides: a famine classification is the highest on the IPC scale (Phase 5) and occurs when at least 20% of the population face extreme food shortages, and acute malnutrition rates exceed 30%, meaning that people experience the most extreme and visible form of undernutrition – and two out of 1,000 people die from starvation. 

One part of the region we don’t hear enough about is the situation in Mali. Right now, according to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the IPC classification of level 5 – i.e. people suffering from famine – is impacting 2,500 people every day. In other words, people are starving to death. According to the IRC “people are now eating so infrequently that they are in physical pain from hunger. Moreover, in the first quarter of 2023, Mali recorded more than 375,000 internally displaced people, surpassing the peak observed in 2013 during the height of the armed conflict.”

As always it is the children who are suffering the most - 200,000 are at risk of starvation in Mali. Climate change is a factor, but it is also the ongoing violence across the country and the economic impact. Like anything it comes down to resources and cash – only 21% of Mali’s humanitarian response plan (HRP) has been funded, leaving millions of people in Mali in precarious conditions. In Sudan it is far worse with only 10% of funds received from pledges by governments. The TV cameras can’t be everywhere, so we must bring awareness to the plight of millions in different ways. Supporting the work of the UN and IRC is critical, as thousands of people are working around the clock trying to bring awareness and push western powers to give more – literally. Let’s help them if we can. 

*Kieran Baker is an Emmy award winning journalist who has started up various networks including Al Jazeera English, Bloomberg TV Africa and TRT World. 

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