The European Commission's humanitarian aid department warned Thursday that West Africa's Sahel belt could face famine this year, with millions potentially affected, Reuters reports (John, 1/29). "We are already into what looks like a period of extreme vulnerability and extreme difficulty for the most disadvantaged of the population," according to Brian O'Neill, regional sector head of European Commission Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), Agence France-Presse writes.
He said, "erratic rains in the 2009/2010 agricultural season have resulted in an enormous deficit in food production" in countries such as Niger, Chad, northern Burkina Faso and northern Nigeria. "If we work fast enough, early enough, it won't be a famine. If we don't there is a strong risk" (1/28).
According to O'Neill, an estimated $220 million is required to avert a crisis in Niger alone. He "acknowledged that donors could struggle to raise money after digging into reserves for the Haiti earthquake aid effort," Reuters writes. "All of us are suffering a bit from Haiti," O'Neill said.
"The warning came as Niger confirmed the veracity of a leaked government forecast that half its population will face food shortages this year after a dive in grain production, but said it had enough food stocks to care for the most needy," the news service reports. Hamani Harouna, a Niger government spokesperson, said, "For the acutely vulnerable, there will be free distribution of basic foodstuffs."
According to Reuters, "In 2005 Niger suffered severe food shortages affecting 4 million people but resisted foreign help and denied there was a famine until media coverage attracted international attention" (1/29).
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