The 2004 invasion of desert locusts and lack and rainfall have plunged nomadic herder and farming families in Northern Mali, Niger and Mauritania into crisis and assessments carried out by Oxfam late last year revealed signs of hardship and distress at what should have been peak harvest time.
"New assessments in Mali and Niger this month have shown greatly increased rates of child malnutrition," said Natasha Quist, Oxfam's Regional Director for West Africa. "They also indicate a devastating loss of the livestock which communities depend upon as a source of food and income".
However, donor governments have largely ignored the now rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in spite of warnings from Oxfam, the UN and other international agencies in the field.
"Donor governments helped to fund locust eradication activities in the region but now appear to have lost interest in assisting those people suffering in the aftermath of the last year's plague" said Quist.
The World Food Programme (WFP), in coordination with national governments, has already started to distribute food aid to targeted communities. However, the WFP have only received $900,000 of their $8 million emergency appeal for Mali. In Niger, the UN flash appeal for $16m launched on the 20 May 05 has received just $2.5m to date.
Hélène Berton, Oxfam's Food Security Coordinator in West Africa said she is concerned that the appeal is woefully inadequate in comparison to actual food needs. "We urge the international community to fund the appeals in both Mali and Niger as a starting point to addressing the mounting crisis."
Apart from the immediate need for food aid, urgent action is also required to provide seeds and agricultural supplies for planting now to ensure that there will be food to harvest this October for next year's supply.
Niger, Mali and Mauritania are amongst the 20 poorest and underdeveloped countries in the world, with Niger rated the second to last on the UN Human Development Index. It will take years for them to fully recover from such a crisis and a bad harvest this year would cause long term devastation to the livelihoods of both nomadic herder communities and agro pastoral communities.
"We have already witnessed a large number of nomadic families leaving their cattle and moving into urban areas to find other ways of survival", said Ms Quist. "These people are from some of the most marginalized communities in the world, and their 1200 year old culture and traditional way of life is threatened with extinction".
For information please call:
Nick Ireland, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator
for OGB West Africa, on: + 221 865 1300 (land line) and + 221 639 55 06
Caroline Green in Washington DC on cell +1 202 321 7858 or work +1 202 496 1174
Kate Pattison in Oxford on +44 (0) 1865 312 192
Oxfam Media Unit
274 Banbury Road
Oxford, OX2 7DZ
Tel: + 44 (0) 1865 312289
Fax: + 44 (0) 1865 312580