'A Cry for Help': Hunger and Drought Crisis in West Africa

PHOTO: UNICEF focuses on the nutritional needs of children. According to the organization, children who are acutely malnourished cannot consume regular food and need specialized, therapeutic food for their bodies to recover.
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According to the United Nations, the Sahel region of West Africa, which stretches across eight countries including Chad, Mauritania and Gambia, is being affected by a hunger crisis.

The U.N. estimates that 18 million people in the region are suffering from food shortages caused by drought and conflict and UNICEF says that nearly 1.5 million children are near starvation.

The following organizations are working to stop the famine by supporting livestock, growing crops and giving people cash so that they can afford the food on sale in their markets.

Below is more information on those organizations and how you can help. A little goes a long way:

Save the Children:

Save the Children plans to reach 185,000 of the most vulnerable families -- 1.3 million people -- to help prevent them from falling into hunger.

The group's Lane Hartill said, however, that the organization also wanted to help these families to build up their resistance in the long term so they were better prepared for the next drought.

Save the Children also supports families through cash-transfer programs so they have money to buy what they consider appropriate. Cattle and goats -- essentially "savings accounts" in villages -- have been hard hit by the drought, Hartill said, and with animals dying, there is no fodder.

According to the organization, $39 could help support 10 mothers whose children are in a stabilization clinic and $2.35 could pay for sachets of oral rehydration salts to help treat 100 children suffering from diarrhea.

To donate to Save the Children, click here.

Oxfam:

Oxfam is starting to distribute unconditional cash to the most vulnerable so they can access food on the markets -- 30 percent to 40 percent higher than in the last five-year average -- and cope until the next harvest.

The organization says that animal feed is "super important" to protect the livelihoods of pastoralists. If they lose their animals on the onset of the rainy season -- which occurred in 2010 when 24 percent of the livestock was lost -- they will be locked in the cycle of hunger.

"One way to put this: Save an animal, save an entire community and help lift them out of poverty," said Gaelle Bausson, an Oxfam spokesperson.

Oxfam said that seeds are also among "the most acute and immediate" need.

Bausson told ABC News today that $40 will vaccinate 15 goats so vulnerable families can have food and an income; $80 will give three people the money to buy food and other essentials for the next three months; and $140 will provide clean, safe drinking water for three families by building or repairing water sources.

To donate to Oxfam, click here.

World Food Programme:

According to the World Food Programme, the main help it needs is money. WFP is funded entirely by voluntary donations from governments, companies and private individuals.

The organization is geared to provide for 9.6 million people across the eight countries of West Africa hit by the Sahel drought. The WFP expects the total cost of providing and delivering that food to be $789 million.

Despite donations from countries like the U.S., the WFP needs $361 million to feed everyone who needs help.

Jane Howard, spokeswoman for WFP, said that the organization spent most of its money on buying food to stop people from going hungry or dying from malnutrition. Howard said a No. 1 product needed in this fight against hunger was a "sachet of Plumpy'sup." It costs about 30 cents for a day's ration.

She said that two months of treatment could transform the life of a malnurished child.

WFP also has started to provide more cash or vouchers so that people can have flexibility when buying their own food.

To donate to World Food Programme, click here.

You can also text AID to 27722 to donate $10.

Charges will appear on your wireless bill or be deducted from your prepaid balance. All purchases must be authorized by account holder. Must be 18 years of age or have parental permission to participate. Message and data rates may apply. Text STOP to 27722 to STOP. Text HELP to 27722 for HELP.

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