'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.

UNICEF:

UNICEF is focused on the nutritional needs of children. According to the organization, children who are acutely malnourished cannot consume regular food and require therapeutic food for their bodies to recover.

UNICEF said the donations made for the Sahel crisis would support life-saving relief efforts for children, including: therapeutic food and milk, medicine, immunizations and supplies to provide access to clean water.

Susannah Masur, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, said that $100 could save a child from severe acute malnutrition; $50 could buy 1,200 high-energy biscuits to give suffering children the protein, vitamins and sugar; and less than $1 could immunize two children against the measles.

To donate to UNICEF, click here.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontieres:

In addition to preventing and treating malnutrition throughout West Africa and the Sahel region, Doctors Without Borders is responding to multiple emergencies related to and exacerbating the hunger crisis, including assisting refugees from Mali and vaccinating against meningitis in Chad.

The organization said that $35 could purchase either enough vaccine to inoculate 85 children against measles during a deadly outbreak or a scale used to weigh children too young or weak to stand.

To donate to Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontieres, click here.

GlobalGiving:

GlobalGiving is collecting donations that will support organizations working in the Sahel region to provide necessary food and medical supplies to those in need. Donations help support efforts to provide food, mosquito nets and clean water through the Sahel Famine Prevention Fund, which distributes donations to UNHCR; Edesia, the makers of Plumpy'Nut; Merlin USA; Oxfam; and others.

Text GIVE FOOD to 80088 to donate $10 to its Sahel Famine Prevention Fund. Message and data rates may apply and it only works for U.S. mobile phones.

To donate to GlobalGiving, click here.

World Vision:

World Vision is helping the people throughout West Africa to improve their lives and enact sustainable solutions for the future of their children, families and communities.

The organization's child sponsorship program plays a vital role in this partnership, with donors from the United States sponsoring more than 7,700 girls and boys. In addition to sponsorship, World Vision operates other programs that benefit communities in Niger.

"A dollar today goes a lot farther than $10 tomorrow," said Laura Blank, World Vision's emergency communications director. "In fact, the U.N. has estimated that an early response to the Niger food crisis several years ago would have cost just $1 per day to prevent malnutrition -- as opposed to the $80 per day cost once the international response finally began. Fighting drought before it happens is simply good aid."

To donate to World Vision, click here or call 1-888-56-CHILD (1-888-562-4453)

Concern Worldwide:

Concern Worldwide is an international, non-governmental humanitarian organization dedicated to reducing extreme poverty, with more than 3,200 personnel working in 25 of the poorest countries in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean.

Concern has been working in Niger since 2003 and has responded to previous food crises in the country in 2005, 2008, and 2010. As the first signs of crisis started to emerge in 2011, Concern rolled out early prevention programs in the country's worst-affected areas to increase people's economic and food security.

Concern has been working in eastern Chad since 2007 and following a nutrition assessment in early 2012, Concern launched an emergency response program to lessen the impact that the failed harvests will have on the poorest and most vulnerable.

To donate to Concern Worldwide, click here

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