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Fear of looming famine in Sahel

Fear of looming famine in Sahel – 17 Feb 2012

Food price hikes, erratic weather patterns and insecurity are compounding a serious food crisis unfolding in West Africa.

Millions of people don’t have enough to eat after inadequate rains and insect infestations led to poor harvests and livestock losses in the Sahel region. Niger and Chad are the worst affected but parts of Burkina Faso and Mali are also deteriorating. See BBC photos here

Gaston Slanwa, Tearfund’s Country Representative for Niger, said, ‘Staple food prices have shot up to almost 40 per cent higher than a year ago. One factor is the rise in violence in neighbouring northern Nigeria which has led to the closure of the border, restricting the movement of people and commodities. This is having a big impact on food security in the region.’

More than 200,000 children in Niger are acutely malnourished and dwindling food supplies are leading to ‘crisis levels’ in some areas of the country.

Following the recent harvest, the price of food, such as millet, should be falling but the reverse has happened. According to the World Food Programme, a 100 kg bag of millet that cost US$29 last October is now selling for more than US$41. Watch this short World Food Programme film clip

In Chad, access to food is also becoming critical as prices rocket with only one out of 56 areas having normal levels of rainfall.

Passiri Levourne, Tearfund’s Country Representative for Chad, said, ‘Everywhere around the country, insufficient food is available in local markets and prices continue to rise. Malnutrition rates are increasing and are now above ten per cent.’

Window of opportunity

In Mali, there are pockets of severe food shortages, with peanut and bean crops failing in many areas. In Burkina Faso, overall cereal production is expected to be significantly down on previous years. Here too food prices are also much higher than a year ago.

Tearfund continues to support national partners to improve access to food supplies, as well as working on longer term measures, such as agricultural training, providing drought-resistant seeds and repairing water sources, to strengthen communities to deal with food insecurity. Partners are stepping up their support for vulnerable communities to make sure they are best prepared for the difficult year ahead.

Robert Schofield, Tearfund’s Disaster Management Director, said, ‘There is a small window of opportunity over the next three months for communities to work on preventative measures to avert the type of full blown food crisis we saw in East Africa last summer.

‘Please stand with Tearfund and our partners and pray for concerted action across the Sahel region by governments, aid agencies and donors to support the most vulnerable through a tough time.’

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