D&P executive director Michael Casey Register file photo

Bishops, D&P fight African drought

  • June 6, 2012

OTTAWA - A looming humanitarian crisis in West Africa’s drought-ravaged Sahel region has prompted Canada’s Catholic bishops to join forces with the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace in an appeal for donations.

D&P executive director Michael Casey called the growing food shortages “a major crisis,” but one that has received little to no media attention.  

“The needs are extensive and will only increase,” he said.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and D&P launched a joint campaign May 29 to help an estimated 15.6 million people who face potentially catastrophic food shortages in Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Gambia, Senegal, Chad and Nigeria. Some bishops are already taking up collections in parishes in their dioceses, said CCCB director of media relations René Laprise.

An estimated one million children are already facing severe malnutrition, D&P warns.

As part of Caritas Internationalis, the Holy See’s development and charitable federation, D&P is working with various Caritas agencies in the area to distribute food and shore up food security through a range of programs and activities.  

D&P announced May 30 it will commit $5 million to help 14,500 people in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso in collaboration with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, a partnership of church-based agencies that aims to end world hunger. Canada has also committed funds through CIDA.

“The situation is urgent,” said D&P Emergency Relief Programs Officer Guy Des Aulniers, according to materials on the agency’s web site.  “The crisis is expected to worsen over the next few weeks, as food supply reserves continue to be depleted and the purchase of basic food essentials remains out of reach for many due to rising costs.”

Low rainfall and periods of drought have brought reduced yields and crop failures that have forced many people to sell their livestock and to eat the grain that would have ordinarily been used for planting next year’s crops, D&P reported.  

The plight of people in the area affected by food shortages and continued drought has been exacerbated by a coup in Mali that has displaced 170,000 people.  The return of migrants from Libya and Cote D’Ivoire has also stressed the food supply. The Sahel, which is south of the Sahara Desert, experienced a food crisis in 2010, so food security had already been deeply compromised.

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