Agencies warn of escalating food crisis in north Africa

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 23 June 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c3372
  1. Peter Moszynski
  1. 1London

    Oxfam and other relief agencies have appealed for emergency aid to avert an impending famine in Africa’s Sahel region, complaining that the crisis has been worsened by a late and inadequate response by international donors.

    Last week the UN Food and Agricultural Organization’s global information and early warning system warned that the food situation in the region is of “grave concern, with over 10 million people at risk of hunger.”

    It says that the food crisis is affecting people in several countries: 7.8 million in Niger, two million in Chad, 258 000 in Mali, and 370 000 in Mauritania. Some communities in northern Nigeria are also affected.

    Cereal production in Niger is 30% down from 2008 because of poor rainfall, while forage production is some 62% below requirements.

    Mamadou Biteye, Oxfam’s regional director for West Africa, told the BMJ, “We are witnessing an unfolding disaster. The next harvests are several months away, and people are already desperate. People are eating leaves and drinking dirty water.”

    He said that in parts of Niger and Chad “people are eating wild fruits, leaves, and maize meant for feeding poultry.” In Chad “women are digging ant hills to eat the grains and seeds the ants have stored.”

    Save the Children said, “Niger is the poorest country in Africa and already has one of the highest child death rates in the world. One in six children don’t make it to their 5th birthday. This latest crisis will put even more children at risk.” It warns that more than 380 000 children are already severely malnourished and face starvation.

    The government of Niger had appealed for urgent assistance, “but the response from other rich governments and international donors has been slow and insufficient,” said Ibrahima Fall, Save the Children’s country director in Niger.

    She said, “The extent of this crisis is being grossly underestimated, and far more children will die if we don’t act fast.”

    Oxfam says that humanitarian agencies and national early warning systems raised the alarm last November and December but that donors and international governments have only now started to respond. “This is too little, too late—scale and speed are now vital.”

    Mr Biteye said, “Five years ago when there was a similar food crisis in Niger the donors left it too late, lives were needlessly lost, and the cost of the humanitarian operation soared. Money is urgently needed now to save lives.”

    Andrew Mitchell, the United Kingdom’s secretary of state for international development, said, “I am deeply concerned by the situation in Niger and Chad. The current humanitarian crisis has left millions of people without enough food to eat and thousands of children at risk of malnutrition.

    “Oxfam is working to deliver vital aid to those who need it most, but they do not have enough funding to meet all the needs.” He said that the UK has provided £15m to help deliver emergency food aid and treatment for malnourished children, and he urged other international donors “to respond generously.”


    Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c3372

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