Food Crisis (The Sahel)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:00 pm on 12th June 2012.

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Photo of Tony Cunningham Tony Cunningham Shadow Minister (International Development) 1:00 pm, 12th June 2012

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson, and I am delighted to have secured this debate. I also thank my colleagues for joining me here this afternoon.

To put the debate in context, 18 million people across seven countries, from Senegal to Eritrea, are now feeling the effects of food shortages. The horn of Africa crisis is beginning to fade in our memories, and as it is not the force it was in the media, our attentions start to turn to another crisis. Although we have an opportunity to do better this time, I am concerned that the world community is not acting swiftly enough. These crises illustrate how food security is a growing problem, which will show no sign of lessening unless there is a global commitment to tackle the issues. That global commitment must deliver its promises to the world’s poor.

I want to focus on a few issues, including children’s welfare during food crises, long-term investment and short-term recovery, and funding and the international community. Living in the region when times are not too bad is difficult. Four of the Sahel countries, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mali, are in the bottom 15 human development index countries. Even in a very good year, Oxfam says, 300,000 children die from malnutrition. These communities are some of the most vulnerable in the world and they lack almost all of life’s most basic requirements. To meet the millennium development goals, the Government must work to protect these people by investing in their future and protecting their present.

The current crisis has recognisable traits plus the added complication of conflict. We have seen it before, but this time we must deal with it differently and better. Cereal production across the Sahel in autumn 2011 was 25% lower than in 2010. A change in the climate can be an inconvenience here in the UK. We saw that with the Queen’s jubilee when it rained throughout the pageant. When we have water shortages, we might not be able to bowl on our favourite bowling green because it has not been watered. In the Sahel, however, such shortages can be a matter of life and death.

One of the most dangerous consequences of a food crisis is malnutrition, which often hits children first, and the most vulnerable children at that. Malnutrition is destroying the potential of thousands of children across Africa. In early May, UNICEF warned that 1 million children could die from malnutrition in the Sahel. We have been warned and we continue to be warned about the ramifications of not acting. The Government must act now to prevent not only deaths but the spread of malnutrition.

The Save the Children report, “A Dangerous Delay” highlights how damaging malnutrition can be, as it directly affects education and future earning power. The impact of not acting now will affect generations to come. Oxfam estimated that it cost $1 a day to protect a child from malnutrition before the 2005 food crisis in Niger, but $80 a day to save a child’s life from severe malnutrition once the crisis had peaked. It makes sense both morally and economically to act now.