Millions affected by West Africa's hunger crisis

The food crisis continues in West Africa. Photo: ITV News

Amina’s face will never leave my mind. I know that it will sit there, somewhere, forever: her vacant eyes, her skeletal frown, her tufts of fluffy red hair.

We found her, and a ward filled with desperate children, in a hospital on the outskirts of Maradi in southern Niger earlier this week. The town has been struck by the growing hunger crisis affecting 19 million people across the Sahel region of Africa, caused by failed rains and conflict.

A year after extreme hunger engulfed parts of eastern Africa killing tens of thousands of people, it is happening again.

The haunting sight and smell of Madarounfa Hospital, where we found Amina last Monday, reminded me so much of the places and people we met in Somalia and Kenya last year.

Looking into the dark eyes of some of the children in Niger, I was reminded of Akibur - a young boy we filmed in Turkana, Kenya last autumn, who was so stunned by the sight of food that he would throw his head back with confusion every time he tried to eat a bowl of porridge.

I thought of Lamaidi – an elderly man from a village in the border regions who was brought so low by hunger that he struggled to recall his own name.

Now, one year on, there are many new names and unforgettable faces: too many.

19 million people across the Sahel region of Africa have been affected by the hunger crisis. Credit: ITV News

But has much of the world become tired of having to help?

The planet has so many other problems that are even more acute than they were when disaster funds for the East Africa famine were being established last year.

Of course, some of those problems affect us directly – they impact our jobs and our bank accounts. Other problems might easily pass us by if we can shield our ears from the screams for help. That’s the danger for the people of Niger, Mali, Cameroon and many other countries in western Africa.

The world has provided assistance, but the United Nations says it needs more - around £1billion – and it needs it now in order to prevent a crisis turning into a catastrophe.

But we know where the planet’s priorities will lie. For example, the amount of money given to Greece by the IMF since the economic crisis erupted is almost one hundred times the $400million given to Niger since the early 1980s. Some charities judge attempts at this week’s G20 summit to help end food shortages as having spectacularly failed due to the focus on global economics.

A child in a West African hospital. Credit: ITV News

Maybe the burden of financial Armageddon might reduce all of our capacities to care. Maybe that’s natural. I’ve just been looking at responses from our viewers after reports from Niger aired earlier this week. One viewer pledged £10,000 as soon as News at Ten went off the air on Tuesday, but many others strongly feel that time spent thinking about the children of the Sahel region is time that should be devoted to urgent problems closer to home.

Yes, valid questions about the effectiveness of international aid responses become more relevant in times of austerity: For instance, what happened to all the money siphoned off by warlords in previous hunger crises in countries like Somalia?

Should Niger, with an economy that is growing at a rate of about 15 per cent a year, not be doing more to help its own people? Shouldn’t donor countries be doing more to help to solve the long term problems, rather than turning up like an ambulance after the emergency?

But if you doubt the suffering and the need for help, I urge you to look at the images of Amina once again.

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