News and analysis
July 23, 2012

West African Food Crisis Gets Little Money From Americans

American nonprofits are finding it difficult to raise money for a looming hunger crisis in West Africa that has remained off the radar of most U.S. donors.

Nine large aid organizations that The Chronicle surveyed have together raised slightly more than $10-million for the emergency. The U.S. Fund for Unicef received the largest sum, $2.5-million.

Aid workers say slow-brewing crises like droughts rarely generate the level of news coverage and donations that earthquakes or tsunamis do, even when the number of people who need help is higher.

This year, the United Nations estimates that 18 million people face hunger in Mali, Niger, Senegal, and six other West African nations. By contrast, roughly 3 million people were affected by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Fundraising for last year’s hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa also drew more money, though news coverage and donations didn’t really pick up until the United Nations declared parts of Somalia a famine, say nonprofit officials. The situation in West Africa has not reached that point.

Mercy Corps and Oxfam America raised $8-million and $5.8-million, respectively, for the Somalia emergency, about six times as much as they’ve raised so far for West Africa.

Spreading the Word

Because of layoffs at newspapers and the closing of foreign bureaus, nonprofits say they face even more pressure to tell their story directly to would-be donors.

“The humanitarian community must do a better job of communicating the consequences of a lack of attention on serious crises,” Gary Shaye, Save the Children’s director of emergency operations and board relations, says in an e-mail to The Chronicle. “Americans simply don’t know what’s happening in the developing world.”

Among the groups raising money for people affected by drought in Africa’s Sahel region:

• CARE USA has received $131,000; its goal is $1-million.

• Catholic Relief Services has raised $1.75-million.

• Concern Worldwide has raised more than $437,000 from donors around the world, more than twice its initial goal.

• Mercy Corps received $1.25-million from foundations and $150,000 from donors online.

• Oxfam America has raised $1-million; its fundraising goal is $5.7-million.

• Save the Children’s U.S. organization received a $1-million foundation grant and $90,000 from people who gave through its Web site.

• U.S. Fund for Unicef has brought in nearly $2.5-million.

• World Food Program USA has raised $225,000.

• World Vision’s U.S. organization has raised $1.75-million. The charity’s affiliates around the globe have raised a total of $8.8-million from private donors and $31.8-million from governments, about 64 percent of their goal.