Last week Oxfam, together with Save the Children, launched a new report called A Dangerous Delay, which found that the international community responded too late to the current Horn of Africa food crisis. Thousands of lives were lost as a result. The report calls for much earlier action to prevent such crises from happening, rather than waiting until people start dying to respond. Now, on the eve of the 2012 African Cup of Nations, 25 footballers heading to the tournament have joined with Oxfam to call for early action to prevent disaster in West Africa. The footballers – including Mali and Barcelona star Seydou Keita, and Newcastle and Senegal striker Demba Ba – have begun a new campaign called “Let’s Tackle Hunger.” The warning signs are already there. Poor rains across the Sahel region in 2011 have seen harvests drop by 25% (in some parts of Mauritania and Chad cereal production is down by as much as 50%). Food prices have almost doubled in many areas. Pastoralists are migrating to search for pasture much earlier than usual. A million children are at risk of severe malnutrition. Governments in the region have already promised to develop national emergency plans and have asked for international assistance. But although serious, the crisis is not yet at the scale we have seen – and continue to see – in Somalia and the wider Horn of Africa. Which means that now is the time to act and make sure it doesn’t get any worse. Launching the new campaign, Seydou Keita said: “If we act now we could save the lives of women and children who are always the first victims of food crises. If we act urgently, children will be saved from malnutrition and will have the chance to grow healthily and succeed at school.” Footballers from four of the affected countries – Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Niger – have so far joined the campaign, also including Burkina Faso star Charles Kabore and Niger captain Lawali Idrissa. They have posed for special photos to draw attention to the crisis, and recorded videos that will be broadcast throughout the African Cup of Nations tournament, calling for an early response. For the past six months we have seen haunting reports of starvation in the Horn of Africa. Oxfam’s Eric Hazard says similar scenes in West Africa are not yet inevitable – if we act swiftly: “We knew about this coming crisis months earlier than we have in the past, meaning we can act now to save lives and protect the livelihoods of many more people. This is why we are delighted that footballers across West Africa have spoken out in solidarity with their fellow citizens to call for early action to win the match against hunger.” If there is another Dangerous Delay to the response, this time there will be no excuses.