The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has joined the fight against hunger in West Africa with a US$10 million donation to eight poverty-stricken countries in the region. Marcus Prior reports on how the much-needed cash injection will be used.
Some humanitarian emergencies leap off the television screen, pull firmly and persistently at the heart-strings and demand a generous international response.
This is an extremely generous donation which comes at an important time and is destined for some of the poorest countries in the world
WFP Regional Director for West Africa, Mustapha Darboe
Others are less telegenic, less fuelled with emotion and less understood. In short, they are often neglected.
Raising resources for WFP operations in West Africa can sometimes feel like passing a collection plate around a virtually empty room.
Conflict in the region has been largely contained, but a vital battle is still being fought against poverty, malnutrition and recurring natural disasters.
That battle has recently received a major boost with the donation of US$10 million by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a nation that has taken its contributions to the international humanitarian effort to new levels in recent times.
The donation, which comes on the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, is to be split between WFP operations in eight West African countries.
As it has come in the form of cash, it will immediately allow country offices to begin the purchase of vital food supplies.
A large chunk of the donation is destined for countries in the semi-desert Sahel, where the annual battle with ‘lean season’ food shortages while awaiting the next harvest is far from over.
Years of underdevelopment have left countries such as Niger, Mauritania and Mali struggling to address chronic problems of malnutrition in young children.
This is a structural crisis that made headlines last year in Niger, but has no overnight ‘cure’.
However, the Saudi contributions to these countries (US$2 million each to Niger and Mauritania and US$1.5 million to Mali) will bolster WFP’s efforts to bring relief in the short-term and encourage a more comprehensive long-term solution.
“This is an extremely generous donation which comes at an important time and is destined for some of the poorest countries in the world,” said WFP Regional Director for West Africa, Mustapha Darboe.
“The West African region is blighted by desperate poverty – it’s often not necessarily the obvious poverty of city slums, but the poverty of rural people and farming communities simply left behind as the rich world continues its inexorable march of prosperity,” he said.
In Liberia, a country recovering from more than a decade of war, the Saudi donation of US$1 million will be used to provide a four-month resettlement food ration to some 20,000 Liberian refugees returning home from various countries in the region now that peace has been restored.
The US$1 million allocated to Senegal will allow the purchase of 1,500 tons of rice, pulses and oil which will be distributed to the most food insecure households in the southern Casamance region.
This includes emergency food supplies to 2,000 people who have been forced from their village homes by recent unrest.
Recent history has not been kind to Guinea-Bissau, with civil unrest and a poor rice harvest in the south last year damaging self-reliance.
Its US$500,000 share of the Saudi Arabian contribution will help WFP assist over 25,000 of the worst affected people in two of the most badly hit provinces.
Sierra Leone and Ghana
Further contributions have been directed to WFP operations in Sierra Leone and Ghana.
A high-level delegation led by WFP Special Ambassador Abdulaziz Arrukban and including senior officials from the Saudi Ministry of Finance is to complete a four-day visit to WFP operations in Senegal, Mauritania and Niger between September 19 and 22.