Cabo Verde + 4 more

WFP urges donors to avert food crisis in western Sahel

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DAKAR - The United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP) today launched an appeal to international donors to provide emergency relief food to five countries in western Sahel, where hundreds of thousands of people are threatened with starvation.
To avert a humanitarian disaster, WFP needs US$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.

While drought conditions continue across the arid African countries on the southern edge of the Sahara desert, "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 Manuel da Silva, WFP's Regional Director for West Africa. The government in Nouakchott has already declared state of emergency and has appealed for international assistance.

"Mauritania lies at the epicenter of the food crisis and hundreds of thousands would face starvation unless aid arrives soon," 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."

With farming communities across Mauritania already suffering from a poor 2001 harvest, the natural disasters have drained grain reserves and forced families to skip meals to cope with the food shortage. People in most rural areas are barely getting by and acute malnutrition is increasing child mortality rates.

"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."

For years, villages in the Aftout region have been fighting an increasingly arduous battle against the invasion of the sand. But people in Aftout have never seen a year like this. They depend on land and wild resources for survival and now drought has the land by the throat.

The sand has swamped vegetable patches and swirled into wells. One sees only rocks and sand. In some villages, families are reduced to eat wild berries; often poisonous, unless they have been soaked in water for several days. And, getting water means a 15-kilometre walk.

The island nation of Cape Verde - off Africa's Atlantic coast - is also suffering from consequences of a total failure of 2002 harvest. According to WFP assessments, many families have eaten their seed reserves and have 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.

According to WFP assessments, 2002 agricultural productions in The Gambia, Western Mali and Senegal have been also very low and in the worst-hit areas, food is 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.

To find out more about growing hunger in Africa and the global campaign to assist more than 38 million people across the continent, go to WFP's "Africa Hunger Alert" webpage. Videos and photos are also available: www.wfp.org/AfricaHungerAlert.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency. In 2001, WFP fed more than 77 million people in 82 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.

For more information please contact:

Ramin Rafirasme, Public Affairs Officer, WFP West Africa, Tel. +221-849 6500, ext. 4990
Trevor Rowe, WFP Chief Spokesperson, Tel. +39-06-6513 2602
Christiane Berthiaume, Public Affairs Officer, WFP Geneva, Tel. +41-22-917 8564

To order video footage of Mauritania's drought, pls. contact, Karen Salvari, WFP Video Unit, Tel: +39-06-6513 2629, Email: Karen.Salvari@wfp.org