World Vision and Save the Children have come together to emphasise the huge food insecurity facing many families in the region, where an estimated 200,000 children die each year from deaths linked to malnutrition. This year, the number could be even higher as more than 18 million people across Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Chad are going hungry. Many families are simply unable to afford the higher prices for basic foods, having already sold off livestock and belongings to survive previous crises.
The charities spoke of the “chronic poverty” of people across the region which keeps them from accessing food available in the markets. However both organisations say that food handouts are not the only answer. They urge the international community to help invest in the region so that farmers improve harvests and build up resilience to climate “shocks”. The charities also say there needs to be further investment in areas like education and infrastructure, as well as in providing “social safety nets” for struggling families and express the hope that talks on these issues will take place at the Hunger Summit to be held in London on the last day of the Olympic Games (12th August). Hosted by David Cameron, the Summit will bring together world leaders, businessmen and development agencies to discuss the problems of world hunger.
Experts are particularly concerned that even when the harvests do start to mature this autumn, they could be ravaged by locusts. Swarms of the insects have begun breeding in northern Mali and Niger, encouraged by early rains. This means there could be two generations of locusts this season and their numbers are expected to increase significantly by October, the time of the harvest in many places. Swarms of desert locusts up to 10 kilometres long and 800 metres wide have already been spotted. A locust forecasting expert with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) told the news agency IRIN that unless control measures are put in place, the livelihoods of up to 50 million people in the region could be affected. The FAO expert warned that a swarm the size of Niamey, the capital of Niger, “can eat in two days...the same [amount of food]” as the whole country.
Already in Niger, more than three million people are struggling with severe food shortages. And families have been put under even greater pressure by the return of many migrant workers to the country from Libya. An influx of refugees from the troubled northern area of Mali has also exacerbated the situation in parts of Niger. So the very last thing the country (or any of its neighbours) needs right now is swarms of food-hungry locusts.