By Tony Magliano
Special to The B.C. Catholic
Imagine being very hungry nearly all the time. Imagine telling your children to wait until the end of the day to eat a very small meal. Imagine eating only every other day.
Imagine not eating at all.
Over 18 million people in West Africa's Sahel region, the area between the Sahara Desert and the African tropics, do not have to imagine severe hunger; they are either experiencing it or getting very close to it.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, "Food and nutrition crises in the region have grown in frequency and severity in recent years, mostly driven by sporadic rainfall, insufficient local harvests, high food prices, and insecurity.
"As a result, people's resilience has been eroded, undermining their capacity to respond to what have become recurrent emergencies."
Nine Sahel countries: Niger, Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Cameroon, and northern Nigeria, are facing severe food shortages.
Timothy Bishop, the country representative for Catholic Relief Services in the Republic of Mali, pointed out that "Unlike in the United States, almost everyone in Mali farms. If the crops don't grow, families don't eat. It's that simple."
He said a hunger period is normal in Mali during the time leading up to the September harvest. This is the "lean" season, when people eat fewer meals. But because the harvest was poor after last year's sporadic rains, countless families have used up their food reserves and are facing a severe hunger crisis.
Bishop said currently over 3 million people in Mali are suffering from severe hunger. He added, "Mali's government is absolutely doing a lot to help, but its resources are very limited. If adequate international assistance is not forthcoming, countless families will be reduced to begging and eating tree leaves. And some may starve."
Bill Rastetter, Catholic Relief Services' country representative in Niger, reported by email, "Few people have more than the minimum, and many don't have even that. There will be no one answer for the entire (Sahel) region or even one country. The results will vary, and many people will continue to be in need."
The Archdiocese of Vancouver will take up a special collection July 22 on behalf of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. This will be the opportunity to make a difference by giving a generous donation.
Disciples of Jesus know His words all too well: "For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink."
Knowing this essential teaching is simply not enough; we must tirelessly act on it!
Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated columnist.