This is a guest post by Henry Makiwa, British Red Cross senior media relations officer, who recently went to Burkina Faso.

Salamata Ali with her youngest son outside the nutritional screening clinic where she volunteers

© IFRC/ Faye Callaghan

According to the UN, at least 1 million children are at risk of the most severe form of malnutrition across the Sahel. Almost twice as many are at risk of malnutrition if strong action is not taken now.

This situation in Burkina Faso is most critical along the border areas that separate Burkina Faso and Mali.

“We have an ongoing problem with malnutrition in this part of the country,” Dr Kdonia Anicet, a paediatrician at Djibo hospital, a twenty-minute drive from the border with Mali, says.

“Mothers are not well educated about how to provide the right nutrition for their babies, especially when they don’t eat well themselves. We’re working with the Red Cross to teach women, particularly in remote communities, but the drought will only make things worse. I expect to see a lot more malnutrition cases here soon.”

In a tiny mud walled room in the remote village of Kamkamfogou, 250 kilometres from Djibo, Red Cross volunteers are working to prevent that. Every Friday mothers bring their babies for nutrition screening. They are weighed and their upper arm circumference measured to check if they are healthy. A green reading is good news, orange raises concerns and red means a referral to the nearest clinic for immediate intensive treatment.

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Mothers helping mothers

Salamata Ali, a mother of two children, volunteers at the Red Cross clinic each week. “I weigh the babies and distribute food supplements to those who need it,” she said. As a member of the community she is known and trusted by fellow mothers and can give advice on keeping their babies healthy. “I like to be helping people during this difficult time,” she adds, proud but modest about her vital volunteer work.

The drought in Burkina Faso is just starting to take its toll on the population. Families knew they would run out of food as the lack of rain destroyed their crops. Many are subsistence farmers often with no other sources of income. Most people cut down to eating just one meal a day several months ago. But for some, even that needs to be further reduced now.

The British Red Cross has launched the West Africa Food Crisis Appeal in support of Red Cross programmes providing food aid, food vouchers, support to livelihoods, and health and sanitation in the Sahel region. The Red Cross urgently needs more funds so it can take action to avoid the situation in Mali and other countries deteriorating as it did in the Horn of Africa last year.

Donate to the West Africa Food Crisis Appeal

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