afrol News, 9 April - Humanitarian organisations are warning that the developing food crisis goes far beyond the known drought areas in Niger and Chad. Millions are facing malnutrition and hunger all over the Sahel, from Mauritania and Guinea to Nigeria and Sudan. Food aid is already under-financed.
Today, the UN's Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) announced it had already freed some US$ 20.5 million to address the food crisis in the Sahel this year. CERF funds so far have focused on five West and Central African states - Guinea, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Chad.
The large amount was only to meet the most urgent humanitarian needs in the Sahel. In a region under the threat of food crisis, CERF funds are to enable UN agencies and their partners to mainly respond to nutritional, food and health needs of vulnerable populations.
The crisis is reaching enormous proportions. According to the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), only in Niger some 7.8 million persons are facing a food crisis, while more than 2 million in neighbouring Chad are in the same desperate situation. Several millions, still poorly mapped, will be affected in other Sahelian countries.
The UN's children agency UNICEF has started mapping child malnutrition in the entire region and is alarmed by its findings. "Already an estimated 859,000 children under the age of five in Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, northern Nigeria and Chad are classified as needing treatment for severe malnutrition," UNICEF spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume told media in Geneva today.
UNICEF was said to be very concerned that the ongoing drought in much of the Sahel region of Africa "has created a food crisis that is jeopardising the health of the region's most vulnerable children."
Tens of thousands of children are at risk of severe malnutrition in Niger and neighbouring countries unless donors urgently provide more funds for humanitarian programmes, Ms Berthiaume said. UNICEF was ready to help the children, but it did not have the funds it needs to carry out its programmes, she added.
Only half of the US$ 50 million sought by the UN agency to deal with the crisis has been received so far, Ms Berthiaume said, adding that the funds were needed as soon as possible because the crisis was "expected to peak within the next two months."
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