Villagers in Zakiré Zarma, Niger

© IFRC/ Mari A

Today is World Water Day, a campaign designed to bring much-needed attention to the link between water and food security. Not enough water to go round? That’s something even England – famed for its rainy days and grey skies – can appreciate.

Much of south-east England is currently in drought, and news headlines predict that it will get worse as summer peaks. There will be hosepipe bans. Lush green lawns will turn yellow. The roses will curl up their petals and die.

Large areas of the Sahel – a stretch of sandy, semi-arid scrubland on the edge of the Sahara – are also in drought, with the crisis set to peak over coming months. Yet, while both the Sahel and the UK are described as being in drought, they face very different situations.

Firstly, more than 13 million people are already facing severe food shortages in the Sahel. Secondly, the area of west Africa that is affected by drought is huge. It is – in every sense – a much bigger problem.

Comparison of drought in the UK vs. west Africa

© BRC (Source: UK Environment Agency/OCHA) This map is for illustrative purposes only, and does not express a British Red Cross opinion.

Miles apart

But, regardless of size, it is highly unlikely that drought would affect a Bedfordshire hamlet in the way it is impacting on communities in the Sahel. Water shortages alone are not the cause of food insecurity in west Africa.

Although drought is part of the problem, many other factors contribute to people’s vulnerability. While the annual hunger season is a fact of life for communities in west Africa, this year is different. Higher food prices, regional insecurity, pest problems and reduced income from remittances are pushing the region into food crisis.

The more often this happens, the more vulnerable people are to it happening again. Food insecurity makes people vulnerable to malnutrition and ill health. Being unwell and lacking energy makes it hard to earn a living.

Even if England was hit by a drought of a similar severity to that in the Sahel, the effect would not be the same. Food insecurity in west Africa is a complex, cumulative problem which cannot be solved by simply turning on a tap.

Our West Africa Food Crisis Appeal will help support people in the region and reduce their vulnerability. When the crisis worsens this summer it will put lives and livelihoods at risk. Help us stop the situation deteriorating for millions of people.

Donate to the West Africa Food Crisis Appeal

Watch a video about our water and sanitation work