As many as 400,000 children under five years-old risk dying of starvation because of the drought in Niger, aid organisations said today. Aid agencies this morning launched two separate £7m appeals to halt a growing food crisis in West Africa, calling the situation ‘an unfolding disaster’.
In Niger, which is bearing the brunt of the crisis, about seven million people face food shortages after crop failures last year. Oxfam and Save The Children say the situation is getting more desperate every day. People in Niger and Chad were living off wild fruits, leaves and maize meant for feeding chickens, while women in Chad were digging up anthills to eat grains the ants had stored up, said Oxfam. It added that worsening conditions in the Sahel region, a semi-arid belt across the southern Sahara have seen malnutrition rates soar as families struggle to find food. "We are witnessing an unfolding disaster which can be averted if we act quickly," Mamadou Biteye, who heads Oxfam's work in west Africa told Associated Press news service. "The next harvests are several months away and people are already desperate. People are eating leaves and drinking dirty water. "Unless we can raise money for this, we will be forced to turn our backs on those most in need."
A combination of a crop failure – after a drought last year − along with big rises in the price of many basic foods has triggered the crisis in the world's most under-developed nation. Oxfam said it was grateful for the cash it had been given so far but called the response from governments around the world ‘woefully inadequate.’ The United Nations says the emergency is already worse than the drought in 2005, and says that help is needed urgently. “The magnitude of this crisis has not been seen before,” said country director, Khardiata Lo Ndiaye. “We need money now!”
The UN only has just over half the aid money it has asked for to keep people going until the next harvest, which is due in September. Save the Children said it needed more money to ‘scale up its work in the country (Niger) and provide more families with life-saving food and medical treatment.’ Oxfam said it was focusing on two million adults across west Africa, in Niger, Chad and Mali, in need of food, by handing out supplies, seeds and animal feed to vulnerable families, vaccinating animals and giving people paid work.