Safiutou Diallo receiving food from the Malian Red Cross

© Sarah Oughton/ IFRC

So a food crisis stems from a shortage of food, right? Not necessarily. When communities are in food crisis, it is usually because people are unable to grow or buy enough to eat, rather than because of an overall shortage of food.

If a farmer’s crop fails – or their goats get ill and have to be sold at a low price – they will not have money to buy enough food, no matter how well-stocked the market is. Even if people can make a little money, a poor harvest will often cause food prices to soar unaffordably high.

Across the Sahel region of west Africa, regional unrest, higher food prices, drought, pest problems and reduced income from remittances have been key factors in turning the annual hunger season into a crisis. They have all disrupted people’s ability make money, or produce food, and afford food that is available to buy.

Disrupted livelihoods

While most areas of the Sahel are experiencing a combination of these trigger factors, places with violence and unrest are among the most vulnerable. In northern Mali, conflict between the Tuareg liberation movement and government forces has led to over 126,000 people being displaced from their homes and over 93,000 more fleeing into neighbouring Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Niger, Mauritania and Algeria.

Mary Atkinson, British Red Cross food security advisor, explains: “Regions where there is conflict are often the most food insecure. Violence and displacement disrupt people’s livelihoods, block their access to shops and markets, and force food prices up. It is likely that the conflict in Mali will make the food crisis there considerably worse.”

Children in Diguidian village, Mali.

© Sarah Oughton/ IFRC

Continued fighting in Mali – coupled with a coup on 21 March 2012 – has added to people’s urgent needs, and made humanitarian access increasingly difficult.

Access to the most vulnerable

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is one of the only agencies able to help people in areas of conflict in Mali. The British Red Cross has already given £125,000 to support the ICRC’s economic security work in Mali and Niger.

These funds will also be used to provide emergency assistance of essential household items – tarpaulins, blankets, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, clothing, hygiene kits, buckets and kitchen sets – to approximately 9,600 people, as part of a programme that includes substantial food aid.

In Mali and across the Sahel region, more than 13 million people face severe food shortages. Support our work to help people in the region access food; donate to our West Africa Food Crisis Appeal.