Almost 10 million people across the Sahel region of West Africa are threatened with a severe food shortage, international aid agency Oxfam said today. The worst affected countries are Niger where 8 million people are at risk, 2 million in Chad and a substantial number of people are expected to be affected in Mali, Nigeria and Burkina Faso, in the coming months.
The agency called upon developed countries to respond urgently to the early warning of impending disaster, citing delays during the Niger food crisis in 2005 that unnecessarily cost lives.
“We are witnessing an unfolding disaster which can be averted if the world acts swiftly. Five years ago the world ignored the warning signs from Niger, failed to act rapidly and lives were lost. The international community cannot make the same mistake and again condemn many children to an early death,” said Mamadou Biteye Oxfam’s West Africa Regional Director.
Irregular rains in 2009 have led to a severe lack of pasture, water and a poor harvest.
In Niger, the harvest has fallen by 26 % as compared with the previous year, and some areas, especially the Diffa in the east of country and Tillabéry to the west, have had no harvest at all. In Chad, harvests have fallen by 34 %. The areas of Hadjer Lamis, Batha, Kanem, Guera regions and eastern Chad are expected to be hit hard, especially from June 2010. Overall, the harvest in the Sahel has decreased by 9 % with great disparities between East and West Sahel.
Prices of cereals are increasing. Millet and sorghum prices are up to respectively 25 and 50 % higher than a year ago in Niger and are expected to increase until the next harvest in September without a substantial aid effort. Rains are not expected until June.
Pastoralists are especially vulnerable as they depend on animals for their food and income. “With not enough fodder, herders are desperate to sell their animals, driving livestock prices lower and lower,” explains Hassane Baka, a representative of Oxfam’s partner AREN in Niger.
“This means that for each animal sold on the market, pastoralists get less cereal with which to feed their families.”
Oxfam called on donors to respond to the government of Niger’s request for international humanitarian assistance. While the authorities have some food reserves, these are currently not sufficient. Up to $123 million was requested to fund the national response plan. The agency also called on donors to address increasing needs in Chad and Mali.
The agency also called on all countries in the region to keep their borders open. In 2005, the situation was made worse when neighbouring countries closed their borders with Niger. This limited the availability of food and increased inflation. The agency also stressed the need for good coordination between governments, UN agencies, and local and international NGOs to ensure efficient aid delivery.
Pic: WFP aid in Niger