Aid agencies have warned that 10 million people in four countries across the Sahel in West and Central Africa risk hunger as a severe drought continues.
The failure of the rains has meant a loss of livestock and crops, along with a surge in food prices. Niger is the worst-affected country, with 7.1 million people, half of the population, at risk from hunger, the Guardian reports. In Chad, 2 million people require food aid. The eastern part of Mali and northern Cameroon have also been badly affected.
The lean season is expected to last at least until the next harvest in September, according to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), which has described the situation as critical.
“People have lost crops, livestock, and the ability to cope on their own. Levels of malnutrition among women and children have already risen to very high levels,” said Thomas Yanga, WFP Regional Director for West Africa.
The Sahel, a largely arid belt of land that stretches across Senegal to Sudan and separates the Sahara desert in the north from the savannah regions further south, is one of the poorest regions in the world and is ill equipped to deal with the crisis. Save the Children, which has launched an emergency appeal for Niger, says in some cases families have trekked more than 600 miles to reach the capital Niamey to find work or beg for food. Others have crossed the border in Nigeria. Similarly, desperate Chadians have sought food in Libya.
The effect of the drought has been compared to the 2005 crisis in Niger, where tens of thousands of children needed treatment for acute malnutrition. Then, president Mamadou Tandja exacerbated the emergency by denying the extent of the hunger. But he was toppled in a military coup in February this year, which has helped the humanitarian response this time.
"The new government is not in denial, so the situation may not turn out to be as serious as in 2005," said Malek Triki, a WFP spokesman in Dakar, told the Guardian. "The international community and the local authorities have been preparing for this."