A severe drought is causing
increasing hunger across the Eastern Sahel in west Africa, affecting 10
million people in four countries, aid agencies warned today. In Niger, the worst-affected country, 7.1
million are hungry, with nearly half considered highly food insecure because of the loss of
livestock and crops coupled with a surge in prices. In Chad, 2 million require food aid. The
eastern parts of Mali and northern Cameroon have also been badly
affected by the failed rains, says the UN World Food Programme, which
described the situation as critical.The Sahel, a
largely arid belt of land that stretches across Senegal to Sudan and
separates the Sahara desert in the north from the savannah regions
further south, is one of the poorest regions in the world. The WFP,
which plans to assist 3.6 million people in the coming months, has
described the humanitarian situation in the four affected countries as
"critical", and says the hunger season is expected to last at least
until the next harvest in September.
Save the Children, which has
launched an emergency appeal for Niger, says in some cases families have
trekked more than 600 miles to reach the capital Niamey to find work or
beg for food. Others have crossed the border in Nigeria. Similarly,
desperate Chadians have sought food in Libya.
The effect of the
drought has been compared to the 2005 crisis in Niger, where tens of
thousands of children needed treatment for acute malnutrition. Then,
president Mamadou Tandja exacerbated the emergency by denying that the
extent the hunger. But he was toppled in a military coup in February
this year, which has helped the humanitarian response this time.
new government is not in denial, so the situation may not turn out to
be as serious as in 2005," said Malek Triki, a WFP spokesman in Dakar.
"The international community and the local authorities have been
preparing for this."