A Sahel-Wide Famine?

Millions in Niger are facing hunger, but the UN now says Chad is also experiencing a food crisis. This is looking like a regional famine, and there aren’t enough resources to go around.N'Djamena area, Chad by afcone

Relief efforts for two million people facing food shortages in Chad are suffering because donors are concentrating aid on neighbouring Niger, a United Nations agency warned on Tuesday.

Niger is seen at the centre of a looming food crisis in the Sahel, the strip of land stretching across the south of the Sahara where some 10 million people are facing hunger in coming months because of poor rains last year.

But the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) sounded an alarm that Chad, which along with its neighbour is one of the world’s poorest nations, was being overlooked.

Some aid agencies (French) are also starting to talk of a Sahelian famine that affects Mauritania and Mali as well as Chad and Niger.

Meanwhile, after last year’s experience, the approach of the rainy season is bringing anxiety, not hope, in some places:

Devastating floods swept through West Africa in 2009, killing more than 100 people and displacing hundreds of thousands more in 16 countries.

As this year’s rainy season draws closer, efforts are being stepped up to prepare for the worst.  The International Federation of the Red Cross is leading the preparation effort.

A Red Cross’ spokesman, Moustapha Diallo, attended flood preparation talks earlier this month in Praia, the capital of Cape Verde.

Famines have occurred periodically in the Sahel for decades, but in recent years crises have occurred frequently. Climate change and desertification are taking a toll on people and agriculture. That in turn puts pressure on Sahelian governments, some of which have other huge political problems, such as rebellions in Chad or last year’s referendum debacle in Niger. A spirit of generosity exists in the region, and governments have often helped each other in times of need, but when everyone is suffering no one is in a position to give much help.

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