With thousands of people suffering in the drought-stricken region on the southern edge of Africa's Sahara desert, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today appealed for emergency food relief for five countries in Western Sahel.
To avert a humanitarian disaster, WFP said it needed $28 million to quickly purchase food rations to help feed 420,000 people suffering from three consecutive years of severe drought in southern Mauritania, as well as 160,000 people in Cape Verde, The Gambia, Mali and Senegal.
According to WFP assessments, 2002 agricultural production in those countries has been so low that in the worst-hit areas, there will not be enough food to cover the needs of the rural population after the end of this month.
Manuel da Silva, WFP's Regional Director for West Africa said the emergency appeal is to assist 580,000 people with 55,000 tons of food over 12 months. "But, WFP needs donations to succeed and those donations are needed urgently," he added.
As unrelenting drought ravages the entire region, "the worst-hit country in the region is
Mauritania, where people in the poorest regions are facing the biggest food crisis in years and the number of the needy is skyrocketing," said Mr. da Silva. "The government in Nouakchott has already declared state of emergency and has appealed for international assistance."
"Mauritania lies at the epicentre of the food crisis and hundreds of thousands would face starvation unless aid arrives soon," Mr. da Silva said. "In addition to drought, heavy, out-of-season rains last year killed tens of thousands of livestock on which households depend to make a living during the hungry season starting in February." People in most rural areas are barely getting by and acute malnutrition is increasing child mortality rates.