Failed harvests threaten food catastrophe

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The Independent Online

Millions of people in West Africa are at risk of starvation following failed harvests, a deepening drought and rising food prices, charities warn today.

Oxfam and Save the Children have launched separate £7m emergency appeals to raise funds to tackle the emerging crisis in the region. In parts of Niger and Chad, some are being reduced to eating maize meant for poultry, while some women are digging ant-hills to collect the grains and seeds the ants have stored, Oxfam said.

It added that worsening conditions in the Sahel region, a semi-arid belt across the southern Sahara have seen malnutrition rates soar as families struggle to find food. Also affected are areas in Mali, Mauritania, parts of Burkina Faso and the north of Nigeria.

Mamadou Biteye, who heads Oxfam's work in West Africa, said: "We are witnessing an unfolding disaster which can be averted if we act quickly. The next harvests are several months away and people are already desperate. People are eating leaves and drinking dirty water."

"Donors need to act urgently before this crisis becomes a catastrophe. Five years ago when there was a similar food crisis in Niger, donors left it too late, lives were needlessly lost and the cost of the humanitarian operation soared."

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