Needs growing for millions facing hunger in Sahel region, UN agency warns

Every six seconds, a child dies from hunger.

28 May 2010 – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today warned of growing needs in the Eastern Sahel region of West Africa, one of the most destitute regions in the world, where some 10 million people are facing extreme hunger due to drought and poor harvests.

Thomas Yanga, WFP Regional Director for West Africa, said that despite efforts by governments, humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the situation in eastern Mali, northern Cameroon, Chad and Niger is critical.

Hunger is pushing more and more people from the countryside into cities where they are searching for food to feed their families, he noted.

“People have lost crops, livestock, and the ability to cope on their own, and the levels of malnutrition among women and children have already risen to very high levels.”

In Niger, a Government-led food security survey carried out this month confirmed that over 7 million people are food insecure. WFP is planning to assist some 2.3 million people in the worst-affected areas, but stressed that it needs $125 million to scale up feeding from now until the end of the year.

The agency has also launched an emergency operation to assist more than 700,000 people hit by drought in the western and central regions of Chad, where some 2 million people overall are in need of aid.

An emergency operation has also been launched in Cameroon to feed 339,000 people from next month until April 2011. The 2009 cereal harvest in the north of the country was nearly 20 per cent below the previous year’s production, and flooded valleys that are usually watering points for cattle dried up earlier than usual, according to WFP.

In Mali, an estimated 258,000 people most at risk, owing to drought and poor harvests, are currently receiving emergency food assistance from the Government, WFP and humanitarian partners.

On a visit to the region last month, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes drew attention to the plight of the millions of hungry, the need for resources to provide life-saving assistance, and the importance of tackling the root causes of the recurring food crisis in the area.

“The current food crisis, five years after the last emergency, shows that without joint action between development and humanitarian actors in support of responsible governments to deal with the structural issues, it will become increasingly difficult to contain these recurrent crises, which do so much to undermine economic and social progress in the Sahel,” he said.

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