British actress Bonnie Wright, best known for her role in the Harry Potter films, travelled to Senegal last week with Oxfam to draw attention to the growing humanitarian crisis in the country and to the wider food crisis across the Sahel region of West Africa.
More than 18 million people in nine countries across the region are threatened by food shortages, including 1 million children suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
With the next harvests not due until September and October, the region is now entering the worst of the crisis.
In Senegal there are 850,000 people suffering from severe food shortages. Despite the appearance of green, lack of rain last year in southern parts of the country led to a poor harvest with people exhausting their stock of food before the planting season had begun.
With the lean season bought forward by two months, there are now three further months with a total absence of food.
As the crisis hits its peak, actress Wright visited Kedougou, an area in Southern Senegal where Oxfam are working, to meet vulnerable families who are now counting on humanitarian assistance as their main means of survival.
Ms. Wright said: “When I arrived in Senegal it was hard to see that this was a country where thousands of people are suffering from extreme hunger. Where you may expect the landscape to be dry and dusty, in fact everywhere was green and lush. I quickly learnt however that this green was hiding the reality, a deep seated hunger that was so present in the lives of the families I spoke to.”
In the Kolda and Kedougou regions in the South of Senegal, Oxfam has launched a programme to distribute cash to families that are most vulnerable, giving them a chance to buy food in local markets, use for health care or for planting seeds.
Ms. Wright continued: “From what I learnt from the people I met, cash transfers enable families to spend the money in the way they need, providing longevity. I hope that with public support Oxfam can continue to help people in these moments and tackle the underlying causes of the crisis to help prevent them happening again.”
Mamadou Biteye, who is leading Oxfam’s emergency response in West Africa said: “This trip with Bonnie Wright came at the time that we really need to raise awareness of the extreme situation in Senegal and across the whole of the Sahel region. Such support is vital for us to step up a gear, stop people starving now, and help build them a better future.”
Oxfam has launched an appeal and is aiming to reach 1.8 million people with emergency assistance across Senegal, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and the Gambia.
You may see the appeal at this link: http://www.oxfam.org.uk/what-we-do/emergency-response/west-africa-food-crisis