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UN appeals urgently for food aid for 15 million hungry in East and West Africa

UN appeals urgently for food aid for 15 million hungry in East and West Africa

Women harvest fields in the Gambia
Two United Nations bodies appealed urgently today for international food aid to help nearly 15 million people facing severe malnutrition and starvation in East and West Africa, where drought and poor harvests have disrupted food supplies.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) warned that 11 million people in Ethiopia urgently needed food and other assistance, while a further 1.4 million in neighbouring Eritrea had been hit hard by drought. Relief stocks in both countries will run out in the coming months, the WPF said in a statement in Nairobi.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said almost two million people face serious food shortages in five countries west of the Sahel. Drought and poor harvests in Cape Verde, the Gambia, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal as well as political instability in Côte d’Ivoire, have combined to leave many people in need of urgent food assistance, the FAO said in a statement in Rome.

Noting that millions of people in Ethiopia and Eritrea are surviving thanks to international relief assistance, the WPF said: “However, more support is urgently needed to avert severe malnutrition and starvation from July, when people traditionally face the worst food shortages during the lean season, which precedes the main harvest.”

Of Ethiopia, Holdbrook Arthur, WFP Regional Director for Eastern and Central Africa, said: “If more donations are not received urgently, food distributions will have to be halted by the end of June.” In Eritrea, where 1.4 million people are affected by drought and an additional 900,000 are displaced or recovering from the recent war, food aid stocks will dry up by the end of April, “just one month from now.”

“So far, only 58 per cent of the 1.4 million metric tons of food required in Ethiopia has been pledged, leaving a huge shortfall of more than 600,000 metric tons.” Mr. Arthur added. “Time is rapidly running out for help to arrive in Eritrea. An irreversible spectre of widespread malnutrition and starvation is becoming a reality with each day that passes.”

Anne M. Bauer, Director for FAO’s Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation, said that in West Africa, “A whole series of factors have created a situation where people who were normally self-sufficient and could buy their own food can no longer do so.”

Noting that a joint FAO and WFP appeal last December for $28 million for the area has so far received only 23 per cent of the total and the situation continues to deteriorate, she said: “The lean period, when family food stocks have been depleted, normally begins in June or July but it has already started in many parts of West Africa.”