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“Professional football against hunger” sounds the alarm on Sahel food crisis

Urgent action is needed in the Sahel, where millions of people are facing hunger. This is the message of European professional football  in support of efforts made by the European Union and FAO to help people hit by disaster feed themselves again.

For the third time in seven years, the Sahel region of West Africa is facing the consequences of drought, poor harvests and soaring food prices. An immediate response is needed to avert a devastating food crisis that could affect millions of people, according to the European Commission's humanitarian aid department (ECHO).

European professional football leagues, represented by the Association for European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL), is throwing in its weight to sound the alarm – and avoid a repeat of last year’s catastrophe caused by drought in the Horn of Africa.

Tens of thousands died of hunger there, says the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), adding that many of them could have been saved if early warnings would have prompted the necessary action on time.



Reaching out for support

To garner timely public support for life saving humanitarian actions, communication is key. ECHO, EPFL and FAO have joined forces in ‘Professional Football against Hunger’, campaigning together to reach out to European audiences and get the message across that action is urgently required in the Sahel.

On top of the agenda this year is the third edition of the European Match Day Against Hunger, from 31 of March until 2 of April, coinciding with the 20th anniversary of ECHO.

In 2010, this truly European event brought together 16 European football leagues and 314 professional football clubs at 157 stadiums in 14 countries across Europe.

The “Professional Football Against Hunger” campaign was launched in 2008 by EPFL, representing the 30 largest professional football leagues and almost 950 clubs across Europe, and FAO, the UN’s agency leading international efforts to defeat hunger.

Last year, one of the world’s biggest humanitarian donor, ECHO, joined in and the campaign’s focus turned to the work of ECHO and FAO in restoring the self reliance of people struck by disaster.

Return to farming

Emergencies have the most devastating consequences for rural communities, where people mainly depend on agriculture for survival. When disaster strikes, FAO and ECHO work together to help these communities return to farming so that they can feed themselves again. Moreover, they aim to address the underlying causes of vulnerability to increase people’s resilience to future shocks.

Currently, FAO is operating 20 ECHO-funded emergency projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America, for a total budget of €16 million (US$ 21.3 million).

In the drought-stricken Sahelian country of Chad, nearly 50 000 of the most affected people, among them women-headed households or Chadians returned from war-torn Libya, receive the seeds and tools to raise their nutrition levels and even make an income from their agricultural activities.

Refugees from Ivory Coast’s post-election crisis both in the country and in neighbouring Liberia, as well the population hosting them, a total of some 130 000 people, receive assistance to produce staple crops, such as rice and cassava, as well as vegetables.

In eastern Sri Lanka, 50 000 people affected by floods get help in resuming cultivation of important crops, such as rice, maize, vegetables, ground nuts and chillies.  And in the north of Colombia, more than 3 000 people displaced by violence are being assisted in improving their capacity to produce food for themselves.