International Development has always been high on the list of issues my constituents in South Manchester have been campaigning hard on. As their Member of Parliament I am privileged to have the opportunity to be involved with and support my constituents’ campaigning.
Under the coalition the UK is fulfilling its international and moral obligation to meet the 0.7% aid target. Even in these difficult financial times when we are sorting out the financial mess left by the previous government the Liberal Democrats have been fighting for fairness in how the Government allocates resources. In the coalition agreement we secured the commitment to raise the International Development budget to 0.7% of GDP (the United Nations target) by the end of the Parliament.
The Sahel is a region that stretches across West and Central Africa; it is as wide as the US, and as you read this, one million children do not get enough food to live on – their lives are in the balance. Children under five are the most severely hit.
The UN appeal for the Sahel is less than half funded, and time is against us. The International Community needs to give, not just pledge, money that will be used to address not only the current humanitarian crisis, but also the causes of chronic food shortages in an extremely vulnerable part of the world.
Last week, I was happy to see the UK pledge an extra £5.4 million for Sahel. This, taken with our other contributions, means we have paid £10 million, which is set to go up to £25.4 million. Other governments have been less forthcoming. We know that we have not yet reached the peak of the Sahel food crisis; it is still in danger of tipping into catastrophe without further concerted global action. The UK Government now needs to take the lead and ignite other UN member countries to contribute their fair share.
Aid agencies like Oxfam have been warning of a massive food crisis in the Sahel region of West Africa for months. Drought, rising food prices, poor harvests and conflict have pushed the situation to the limits. Drought has badly hit Saheli farmers; the chronic lack of investment in agriculture is certainly not helping them. Food stocks have been exhausted and people are being priced out of the food market. More and more people are going hungry.
If we don’t help, people in the Sahel will struggle to survive as they enter the worst months of the lean season; the months before the next harvests in September and October.
You might be thinking: “Another crisis in Africa- another request for help. But we are struggling in Manchester - these are tough times for us too”. I don’t accept that we should ignore our international responsibilities when times are hard.
With repeated crises, communities’ resilience and ability to recover and prepare for future challenges is weakened. And the risks of potential conflicts rise. A peaceful and prosperous world is a world where everyone has enough to eat. How many people have to suffer how many times before we break the cycle of hunger? We cannot prevent drought – but we can learn to prevent rather than react to the food crises.
Oxfam and other international agencies started the response to the crisis in the Sahel this year earlier than in the past, and have already helped millions of people. But we have to measure our actions against the reality, and the injustices of hunger in the 21st century still exist; that is the reality we are operating in. There is no room for complacency. We must always strive to do better; mothers should no longer need to search for food in anthills so they can feed their children.
We need the International Community to step up and mobilise resources now; to respond in the short-term to the current humanitarian crisis, and in the long-term to commit to a vision of how to help stop future crises in the Sahel. Oxfam believes that such a vision must include investing in agriculture in ways that benefit small-scale farmers, especially women, helping them to grow more food and earn more money for their families in good years and bad.
Only by doing the right thing here, by raising the International Development budget, can we expect other rich countries to do their fair share.
To get involved with Oxfam locally, contact them through.