World wakes to African hunger - late again?

Fri Jun 18, 2010 8:34am GMT

By Mark John and George Fominyen

DAKAR (Reuters) - In a slow-motion disaster predicted months ago by aid agencies, Africa's Sahel region is lurching towards a food crisis which the world has only weeks left to avert.

Yet even if more aid is pledged right now, the obstacles in getting succour to the most vulnerable and remote communities on the planet mean hundreds of thousands of children in Niger and Chad are already facing life-threatening hunger.

"The problem is that we are already too late. If you get the funds today, you don't get the food in country for two to three months," said Malik Allaouna, regional emergency manager for Save the Children in West and Central Africa.

This is the start of the "lean season", the annual battle to survive from the end of one year's food stocks to the start of a new harvest. For millennia it was the curse of most of humanity, but now it is largely the reserve of millions of Africans.

Last year's failed rains in the Sahel belt stretching across the south of the Sahara from Mauritania to Sudan mean the human cost this season could be as high as in 2005, when TV images of starving children shook the world out of inertia -- too late.

While a final death toll was not established, U.N. agency UNICEF estimated at the height of the 2005 crisis that hunger and malnutrition were threatening the lives of 3.6 million people in Niger alone.


From around October last year, tell-tale signs both of impending disaster and the inadequacy of the humanitarian response so far are grim reminders of events five years ago.   Continued...

<p>A malnourished child is fed a meal in Uganda's Karamoja region, 700km (420 miles) northeast of Capital Kampala, were over one million people face starvation due to prolonged drought, May 19, 2008. REUTER/James Akena</p>
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