06/21/2012 03:27 pm ET Updated Aug 21, 2012

Private Sector Also Plays Role in Responding to Sahel Crisis

This blog is part of a series organized by The Huffington Post and the NGO alliance InterAction to call attention to the crisis in the Sahel, a region in sub-Saharan Africa where more than 18 million people face starvation and 1.1 million children under the age of 5 are at risk of dying from acute malnutrition. Click here to read more of HuffPost Impact's coverage of the Sahel and here to find out what InterAction members and others are doing in the Sahel.

Disclosure: UPS supports InterAction's Business Council and annual Forum.

Governments worldwide are struggling under massive debt, which means there is often less left over for international relief and humanitarian efforts. NGOs like those which belong to InterAction rely on the generosity of the public and increasingly turn to the private sector as a source not only of funding but also for logistical support and expert advice.

Forming partnerships with the private sector as a way of leveraging humanitarian and relief work is essential as we look to bridge funding gaps. Of course, those partnerships have to be in line with the strategy and humanitarian principles of an NGO. In massive disasters, telecommunications companies, for example, often provide essential help in setting up destroyed telecommunications networks, using their expertise and technology to save lives.

Logistics is another area where there is a lot of potential for partnership. At my organization's annual conference in May, logistics and shipping giant UPS joined a group of our member CEOs to look at how companies and their foundations could engage with humanitarian relief organizations in a meaningful way. But partnerships cannot only be a PR exercise. There has to be a good strategic fit.

The conversation over dinner turned to the unfolding crisis in the Sahel region, a vast swathe of land in sub-Saharan Africa which has been ravaged by drought and conflict. Some 18 million people across the Sahel face starvation as the region suffers the third major drought in a decade. Cereal production has fallen by a quarter over the past year and food prices have rocketed. Children are among the hardest hit, with an estimated 1 million under the age of 5 at risk of dying from malnutrition. Mali is at the epicenter of the crisis and more than 300,000 people have fled there since fighting broke out between a rebel movement and Mali's government. They have taken refuge in Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger, putting more strain on communities already stretched by a lack of resources.

The United Nations estimates the overall funding needs to address the Sahel crisis are roughly$1.6 billion, but so far less than half of this has been received. The U.S. government committed $308 million for humanitarian assistance to the Sahel in Fiscal Year 2012. These new funding figures are a welcome step, but they underscore that we need multiple actors to avert an even worse crisis in the Sahel.

Getting aid to the region is difficult, and UPS's Foundation offered at our conference to help not only U.N. agencies, but also InterAction members get their assistance there via several consolidated aid flights. The goal is to have a coordinated shipment containing freight from several NGOs rather than have planes go separately. Earlier this month, as a direct result of that conversation at InterAction's annual Forum conference, a UPS flight left from Germany for Mauritania, loaded with medical and humanitarian assistance to help people in the Sahel region. Another UPS-funded flight will leave in the coming weeks for the region, carrying items to be distributed by InterAction members addressing the crisis in the Sahel.

Cargo on the June 2 flight included medicine, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, plastic sheeting and jerry cans to be distributed among some 10,000 Malian refugees in the Mbera refugee camp in Mauritania. The camp is just 60 km from the border of Mali, where thousands are fleeing violence. Mobile storage units destined for the World Food Program will allow food to be safely pre-positioned before the rainy season. When the deluge comes, there is no guarantee that trucks will be able to reach those most in need and the mobile storage units could be a lifesaver for many.