In a renewed appeal for funds for emergency projects in the five countries, FAO said drought, poor harvests and political instability in Côte d'Ivoire had combined to leave many people in the region in need of urgent food assistance. The projects would include food aid and seeds, tools and fertilisers for affected households, and technical assistance on irrigation to address longer-term food needs.
"A series of factors have created a situation where people who were normally self-sufficient and could buy their own food can no longer do so," Anne M. Bauer, FAO's director for emergency operations and rehabilitation, said in Rome.
A joint FAO and World Food Programme appeal in December for $28 million for the region had so far received only 23 percent of the funding requested and the situation continued to deteriorate, FAO added.
"A recent joint mission to the region by FAO and the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) estimated a total cereal deficit of 611,350 mt in the area," FAO added. "The lean period, when family food stocks have been depleted, normally begins in June or July but it has already started in many parts."
In Senegal, shriveled harvests of peanuts, a crop used by many farmers to raise money to buy food, had forced up prices of other staple crops. The peanut harvest was down 70 percent and over half of rural households were short of food. In The Gambia, erratic rain had seriously affected 360,000 rural people.
In Mauritania, 600,000 people face food shortages while in Mali, over 130,000 people fleeing the crisis in neighbouring Cote d'Ivoire had arrived empty-handed. "The influx of refugees risks worsening an economic situation where already 73 percent of the population live on less than a dollar a day," FAO said. "Mali has the worst cereal deficit of the area with some 213 000 tonnes of cereals needed."
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