Food crisis threatens millions in West Africa: aid official

Millions in Niger and across West Africa face food shortages after erratic rains hit farming in countries in the Sahel region.

Food crisis threatens millions in West Africa: aid official

Millions in Niger and across West Africa face food shortages after erratic rains hit farming in countries in the Sahel region south of the Sahara desert, the European Commission's aid group said Thursday.

"We are already into what looks like a period of extreme vulnerability and extreme difficulty for the most disadvantaged of the population," said Brian O'Neill, regional sector head of European Commission Humanitarian Aid (ECHO).

"You are talking about a crisis of enormous proportions," O'Neill said of signs of food shortages in Niger and neighbours such as Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and northern Nigeria.

Niger confirmed on Thursday that around half its 15 million population could face either severe or moderate malnutrition this year. There is no clear picture yet of the extent of risk elsewhere, notably in populous northern Nigeria.

Malnutrition has been a constant threat to the populations of the Sahel, which runs along the southern edge of the Sahara, but some experts say global warming has made matters worse.

Lack of rain contributed to a 26 percent fall in Niger's 2009/2010 cereal harvest compared to the year before, official data showed. Grains at some local markets are already trading at nearly double their usual levels.

O'Neill said the latest estimate of funds needed to avert the crisis stood at $220 million this year for Niger alone, but acknowledged that donors could struggle to raise money after digging into reserves for the Haiti earthquake aid effort.

"All of us are suffering a bit from Haiti," said O'Neill, whose agency has spent some 75 million euros combating child malnutrition in the Sahel since 2007.

In 2005 Niger suffered severe food shortages affecting 4 million people but resisted foreign help and denied there was a famine until media coverage attracted international attention.

"If we work fast enough, early enough, it will not be a famine. If we don't move, there is a strong risk it could be happening," he told a news briefing after a trip to the region, urging the United Nations to show "very strong leadership".


Agencies

Last Mod: 29 Ocak 2010, 12:50
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