Food crisis looms in Africa's Sahel region

Last Updated: Tue, Jan 31, 2012 06:50 hrs

Addis Ababa, Jan 31 (IANS) Humanitarian agencies attending the 18th African Union summit here in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa have warned that at least 11 million people in Africa's Sahel region are likely to face severe food shortages.

Statistics by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) show that more than 11 million people in Niger, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and some parts of Senegal face severe food shortages.

Valerie Amos, UN under secretary general for humanitarian affairs, told Xinhua Monday that there is an urgent need of averting a looming food crisis in the region.

"The Sahel is an area where we are all concerned. We may see a crisis later in the year. The countries themselves have already called for international assistance and we are doing what we can to raise the money to put in place contingency to deal with a serious problem should it arise," said Amos.

A statement issued by IFRC said that erratic rainfall, droughts and insect infestations have led to poor harvests and could cause major malnutrition.

It said malnutrition rates are generally high in the Sahel and are likely to peak starting April.

"Unless action is taken now, over one million children under the age of five are likely to suffer from severe acute malnutrition. Up to one third of these children are likely to be in Niger alone," the statement said.

According to IFRC, it is not just weather contributing to this disaster.

"Food and petrol prices have increased sharply; in December 2011 corn prices in the Sahel were 60 percent to 85 percent above the above five year averages. Remittances from those working abroad have at the same time sharply dropped, in part due to the political crises in North Africa and economic crises in the West," the IFRC statement said.

Alasan Senghore, IFRC's director for Africa, said that whereas the situation in Sahel is dire, focus should not be lost on the Horn of Africa which last year experienced the worst drought in decades.

"There have been good rains but that does not mean the drought is over. There are still a lot of problems in terms of food insecurity," he said.

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