WFP said food rations urgently needed to be purchased, to help feed 420,000 people suffering from three consecutive years of severe drought in southern Mauritania and 160,000 people in Cape Verde, The Gambia, Mali and Senegal.
"The worst-hit country in the region is Mauritania, where people in the poorest areas are facing the biggest food crisis in years and the number of the needy is skyrocketing," Manuel da Silva, WFP's Regional Director for West Africa said in Dakar, Senegal.
"Mauritania lies at the epicenter of the food crisis and hundreds of thousands would face starvation unless aid arrives soon," da Silva added. "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."
According to WFP, natural disasters had drained grain reserves and forced Mauritanian families to skip meals to cope with the food shortage. People in most rural areas were barely getting by and acute malnutrition was increasing child mortality rates, it added.
"Aftout, some 400 kilometers from Nouakchott, is perhaps the location of Africa's most hidden food crisis and Mauritania is not on the aid radar of donor countries," da Silva said. "Ordinary people are doing their best to help themselves and aid workers are doing their best to assist. Yet, these are exceptional times and direct risk of starvation threatens hundreds of thousands out of a population of 2.7 million."
Cape Verde, off Africa's Atlantic coast, was suffering from consequences of a total failure of 2002 harvest. According to WFP assessments, many families have eaten their seed reserves and had nothing to plant in the next harvest.
"In June 2002, and for the first time in more than 20 years, the Cape Verdian Government appealed for international food aid to help cope with the increasing food shortages and malnutrition," the UN agency said.
According to WFP assessments, 2002 agricultural productions in The Gambia, Western Mali and Senegal had been also very low and in the worst-hit areas, food was not sufficient to cover the needs of the rural population after January 2003.
"WFP emergency appeal for western Sahel is to assist 580,000 people with 55,000 tons of food over twelve months. But, it needs donations to succeed and those donations are needed urgently," da Silva said.
Mauritania's government appealed for food aid in September, but the appeal has not produced a major response, the USAID Famine Early Warning System Network reported in January.
Details about growing hunger in Africa and the global campaign to assist more than 38 million people across the continent are available at: www.wfp.org/AfricaHungerAlert.
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