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DAKAR, 3 February 2020 - The number of people facing a critical lack of food and vital livelihood opportunities in the Central Sahel has spiked in one year due to rising insecurity and climatic shocks. The situation may further deteriorate unless the international community acts now, three United Nations agencies warned today.


Despite an overall satisfactory agricultural production, 3.3 million people need immediate assistance in the Central Sahel, according to the latest Cadre Harmonisé food security analyses, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said. Experts forecast that close to 4.8 million people in the Central Sahel will be at risk of food insecurity during the lean season (June-August 2020) if no appropriate actions are taken urgently.


The unprecedented escalation of humanitarian needs in the Central Sahel is a major factor for the alarming situation that the overall West Africa region is facing in 2020, where the number of people at risk of food insecurity could rise up to a total 14.4 million, a level that has not been reached since 2012.


Of biggest concern are the Central Sahelian countries of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, where conflict and its impacts on communities have become the main cause of food insecurity. The three countries are experiencing a rise in the number of security incidents, including attacks by armed groups and community conflicts that frequently lead to population movements.


In Burkina Faso in particular, the situation is alarming. The number of internally displaced people (IDPs) is now six times higher than it was in January 2019, going from 90,000 to 560,033 in December 2019. This shows how quickly and massively the situation deteriorated during in 2019.


“We are seeing a staggering rise in hunger in the central Sahel. The number of food-insecure people has doubled after harvest time when it should have dropped. Unless we act now, a whole generation are at risk,” said Chris Nikoi, Regional Director for WFP in West and Central Africa.


Climate change is disrupting already fragile livelihoods. There are already early departures of transhumance herds. This situation is exacerbated by armed and community conflicts, theft, and banditry, which disrupt the mobility of animal herds, access to fodder and water resources. It also leads to a concentration of animals in some more secure areas, with the risk of aggravating farmer-pastoralist conflicts.


Overall, the increasing vulnerability of rural populations, insecurity and conflict over resources, are disrupting social cohesion amongst communities, leading to a longer-term worsening of the crisis in the Sahel. Therefore, immediate assistance to respond to urgent needs must be coupled with substantial investments in rural livelihoods and social services, in order to reinforce social cohesion and provide the foundations for peace in the region.


“Unless we address these crises from their roots, millions of vulnerable pastoralists and agro-pastoralists will continue requiring urgent assistance each year, as it was in 2019 and as it will be in 2020,” said Robert Guei, FAO Sub-regional Coordinator for West Africa, adding that the Global Network against Food Crises provides framework for that support.

Thanks to collective efforts in providing essential preventive and curative services, the results of the 2019 national nutrition surveys in the Sahel do not show an immediate decline in children’s nutritional status. However, the situation remains fragile with rates of global acute malnutrition that are still above or close to the WHO “serious threshold” in Niger (10.9%), and Mali (9.4%).


The situation is particularly worrying in northern Burkina Faso where widespread insecurity is significantly hindering the prevention and treatment of acute malnutrition among mothers and young children. Rapid nutrition assessments conducted in municipalities with high numbers of internally displaced people show a sharp deterioration of the nutritional status among children under five. More in-depth analysis involving both institutional and operational partners is ongoing to identify the most at-risk areas.


Household food insecurity, compounded by population displacement, limited access to health services and safe drinking water, as well as poor knowledge on optimal child feeding practices will have a serious impact on the nutritional status of young children, and on the capacities of communities to bounce back, if nothing is done now to protect the nutritional status of young children and prevent life-threatening acute malnutrition. Integrated approaches for the prevention and care of acute malnutrition must be implemented at scale immediately in the most affected areas.


“The conflict in the Central Sahel is a cascading crisis sweeping across the region, putting a whole generation of children at risk. Hundreds of thousands of children are deprived of education, vulnerable to exploitation and at risk of malnutrition. Children and young people continue to pay the highest price for a crisis not of their making. We need to act now with partners to avert a tragedy”, said UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier.


Anyone who's worked in the news media for a while, as is the case with me, would likely be tremendously excited by the arrival of so many of new distribution platforms. They hold so much promise and truly democratize the landscape.

Viewership is more fractionalized than ever, and the younger you are the more likely you are to consume media and acquire information you trust differently. Mobile devices, social platforms, OTT - they're where the action is for generations of younger media consumers.


NEWS: DIVING INTO DIGITAL

To reach those audiences, everyone is diving as fast as possible into digital. All the major networks are looking to create (or already have) alternatives to their news offerings, and there are litanies of digital entrants. Virtually every name you can think of is making a content play around news and current topics, delivered "the new way".

Yet, here's the big surprise. The content being produced on many of these platforms is remarkably similar to what's airing on "old media" That sameness is a letdown.

They routinely turn to "newspeak" - often hackneyed and trite, they often sit behind anchor desks, and they make all the same storytelling and production mistakes. They're also not delivering new, deeper, more informative takeaways. The backstory is almost never explained. The content isn't any more engaging.


WHAT DIGITAL AUDIENCES SAY THEY WANT

Younger, disenfranchised news consumers place very little trust in traditional news media, and they don't use it much. They hate being talked at. They disdain bloviators or obfuscators. They want authenticity and value-added. They're so swamped with news flow from all the sources on their handhelds that news stories without anything to add are a big turn-off. I hear it all the time: "Tell me something I don't know."

They also want what they want when they want it. They don't want to sit through some same-old same-old waiting for the story they're most interested in. Watching my son thumbing through Reddit, pausing only for the stuff that interests him, is a metaphor for the new generation of news consumers. They'll decide for themselves what's interesting, what they want to know, and move squarely in that direction. That poses a significant threat to all linear media, whether it's via traditional broadcast or streamed. Streaming services will need to countermand that risk is by putting on a first-class package that is compellingly attractive - editorially and visually.


THE STORYTELLING AND PRODUCTION IS SURPRISINGLY WEAK

As for the visuals - why are the newbies in the game turning back to all the traditional means of production? Why so boring? Why telegraph the predictable with even more predictable production landscapes? I'm not a "change the set, change the graphics, fire the anchors" change-for-change's sake kind of guy, but there are a litany of new tools available today to enhance information delivery. Hardly anyone's using them. Great graphics and animations, more sound, immersive images through augmented reality, even something as simple as more active videography. The biggest news stories of the day can be taken out of the hands of the traditionalists and packed with qualities that transform them into something more exciting to watch, while going deeper, and delivering more context. I'll bet you that the first player to do that on a regular basis will generate much higher levels of engagement - triggering shares, recommendations to friends, and earning greater loyalty.


I've been watching - a lot. I don't see the denizens of digital delivering a dose of breakthroughs. Rather, I see a lot of imitation. Many of today's digital news leaders are getting hired to produce and provide what business leaders hope will be the next big thing: fresh, breakout TV. But they can't, because they're held hostage by their own bad habits, acquired in linear, conventional television - or at smaller shops where they may well have had neither the tools nor the training.


YOUNGER JOURNALISTS AREN'T ALWAYS YOUNGER THINKERS

And here's something remarkable: A lot of recent graduates of journalism and television production programs from some of the best schools in the country are adhering to dated paradigms in editorial and presentation. Many of them are writing badly, don't know how to create context or weave sound and story together for meaning, and bringing almost nothing fresh to the table. Those expected to be the most progressive and Avant Garde in their storytelling and production are often anything but.

I've talked to a -ton- of millennials, gen-y, gen-z, even disenfranchised boomers. I hear the same criticisms everywhere I travel. "Don't lecture me, don't talk at me, don't repeat the same crap over and over, don't paint a one-sided rhetorical picture, and above all else, tell me something new and show me stuff that I didn't know." That's what they're saying. I don't see a lot of evidence the digiscape is listening.


IT'S TIME TO MAKE GOOD ON THE PROMISE

The time is at hand for true reinvention. It's more important than ever for younger audiences to be interested in, and have access to sources they trust - providing engaging, truthful, accurate, informative, enlightening and memorable news coverage. If they sample one of the services and are dissatisfied, they may not be back for another try. There is almost limitless potential and promise here - but it's crucial to fashion great content well-matched to this vast and still underserved audience. Here's to getting it right.


Gary Kanofsky is an award-winning television industry news executive, content creator, producer and innovator.

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