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West Africa food shortages

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With seven million people across five west African countries facing the spectre of famine within months, Christian Aid is stepping up its early response plans to assist those living in the stricken Sahel region.

Niger, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania all facing a chronic malnutrition crises but the prospect of a full-blown emergency has prompted the governments of all five countries to declare states of emergency and call for international assistance.

`The Sahel is once again facing a humanitarian crisis and, unusually this time, several governments in the region have called for international assistance and are developing emergency response plans,' says Cristina Ruiz, Christian Aid’s Africa humanitarian programmes manager.

`Now the responsibility is on the international community to scale up fast enough to avoid major suffering since these governments cannot tackle this on their own,' she explains.

As a result of failed rains and wide-spread drought, Mali lost 11.8% of total cereal output between 2010 – 2011, while in Burkina Faso it is estimated that 41.47% of the country will face severe food insecurity, and in Niger the government believe that more than half of the nation’s villages are now running out of basic food.

Current crisis The current crisis is the latest peak in a situation of longstanding food insecurity in the Sahel. Following severe drought in 2010, Christian Aid launched an appeal to provide emergency relief and long-term support for communities in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali, with whom we continue to work.

During the shortages, many people in the affected regions were forced to sell their livestock or build up debts to ensure they could buy food. This left them vulnerable if the harvests should fail again.

`Our emergency task forces are already reporting significantly worsening hunger levels throughout the Sahel, and we are ready to scale up our early interventions in Mali and Burkina Faso, including ensuring access to cereals, cash transfers, nutrition support, providing animal fodder and destocking, and reinforcing livelihoods and resilience,' says Cristina Ruiz.

Christian Aid is also working through partners in Niger and with other UK agencies through the Sahel Working Group (SWG) both in the UK and in the region.