06/22/2012 01:54 pm ET Updated Aug 27, 2012

Helping Africa's Sahel Region Before Crisis Hits: What You Can Do

When it comes to aid for Africa, there's a longstanding modus operandi known as the CNN effect: The public isn't spurred to take action until it's hit with the prototypical images of sizzled farmland and emaciated children. Well, here at Impact, we want to create the Huffington Post effect -- as proposed by A View from the Cave -- by advocating for action before full-blown crisis hits.

Amid drought, war, a food shortage and government corruption, Africa's Sahel region is on the verge of an alarming humanitarian crisis, as the people of this Sub-Saharan swath are forced to search anthills for crumbs and eat seeds instead of planting them.

In our newly launched Sahel series, we'll raise awareness of the impending crisis that is likely to affect as many as 18 million people in eight countries -- from Senegal in the West to the Sudan in the East -- by focusing on the places and faces in this challenged region.

This is the third drought to hit the Sahel in less than a decade, and last year, as the UN explains, the rains were extra sparse. Plus, bad harvests have caused food costs to rise and the conflict in Mali has driven thousands of refugees from their homes, straining resources in neighboring countries. Aid groups are seeking help in working to prevent hunger crises in the future by using methods such as educating residents on harvesting rainwater and growing crops that can withstand the elements.

Through our series, we'll capture updates on the humanitarian crisis and will cover issues ranging from acute malnutrition to long-term agrarian sustainability -- but we're also looking for indelible images of the individuals who live there, hoping to paint a vivid portrait of life in this region. We're looking for examples of development in Senegal, cultural advancements in Mali, a close-up look from Islamic Relief about a Niger village facing 95 percent food deficiency, a World Vision blog about a village in Nigeria coming together to collectively fight for the survival of a 2-year-old boy.

And here's how you can help: To call attention to the developing crisis in the Sahel -- and to make sure we don't see another humanitarian crisis on the scale of Ethiopia in the 1980s or more recently Darfur -- we're asking our readers to road-test a new social-network platform called Thunderclap, which allows people to send one uniform message, either by tweet or via a post to other social networks, like Facebook. Our message? We're asking people to open their eyes and recognize the unfolding, multi-country critical situation before it becomes a true humanitarian crisis.

In order to participate, go here and click "join" to take part in HuffPost Impact's Thunderclap. By agreeing to participate, you will automatically Facebook a message -- with hundreds of others who have also signed up -- on July 2, at 12 pm. If we can shake up Facebook and other platforms, we can grab the world's attention and focus it on this imperiled region.

We continue to invite organizations that have presences or individuals who have traveled to the Sahel to join the conversation. The countries that comprise the heart of the Sahel are: Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, and the Sudan. (Others note that the Sahel extends to include parts of South Sudan, Eritrea, the Gambia, Algeria, Cameroon, and Guinea-Bissau.)

In the meantime, continue to check out our coverage so far on our Sahel news page, and join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #ImpactSahel. And if you've been to the region or know someone who has, please help us tell the story of the Sahel by contacting HuffPost Impact at