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Avoiding Food Crises in Sahel

Severe food shortages in the Sahel area of Africa have affected 18 million people in nine countries this year (2012). This was the third severe food crisis in four years in the area south of the Sahara Desert. How can the Sahel break its cycle of food insecurity? Aid workers are asking that question as this year's emergency eases.

David Gressly is the United Nations regional humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel. He says during a crisis, families eat just one or two meals a day. They take their children out of school. And they sell their animals and go into debt. These actions put them at greater risk in a future crisis.

In fact, many of the families affected by this year's food crisis have yet to recover from earlier ones. Aid agencies sent food and emergency assistance. They supplied farmers with drought-resistant seeds, improved fertilizers and medicines for livestock.

Aid groups also worked to improve irrigation systems and grain storage. These measures dealt with short-term needs. But, David Gressly says the work should not stop when the crisis eases.He says there is a need for targeted programs for these 18 million people. He says the programs should find ways to avoid crises so that people do not put their futures at risk just to survive. Aid groups say they are working to build the resilience of communities, to make them stronger during a crisis.

David Gressly says this means taking steps like reducing child malnutrition and changing cultural practices that may be harmful. Building the resilience of poor people also means investing in food reserves and social protections like health care. Aid groups say prevention costs less than treatment.

For VOA Learning English, I'm Alex Villarreal