UN calls for $2 bn to help combat hunger in Sahel

The UN launched a bid Monday to raise $2.0 billion (1.48 billion euros) from international donors in 2014 to help more than 20 million people threatened by famine in Africa's Sahel region.

"More people than ever are at risk in the Sahel and the scale of their needs is so great that no agency or organisation can tackle it alone," said UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos during a meeting in Rome.

Some 20 million people "are currently at risk of food insecurity in the Sahel" and 2.5 million of them "need urgent lifesaving food assistance", the United Nations said in statement released in the Italian capital, where its food and agriculture agencies are headquartered.

The bid "seeks to mobilise an initial $2 billion from international donors in 2014" to tackle food crises in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal, the statement said.

It said violence and insecurity "has forced 1.2 million people to flee their homes creating protracted internal displacement and a refugee crisis", and warned that around five million children under five years old are expected to suffer from malnutrition this year.

"Our first priority is to ensure that farmers in the Sahel have a successful planting season in the coming weeks, providing them urgently with agricultural inputs," said Jose Graziano da Silva, director general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

"Our responsibility is also to make sure that the next drought will not lead to another major humanitarian crisis... by producing quality seed varieties, rehabilitating degraded agricultural land, conserving rainwater and supporting small-scale irrigation," he added.

The UN said population growth in the region is outstripping a slight increase in food production in 2013, and difficulties accessing food are being compounded by high prices in most markets.

"The situation requires an early and large-scale humanitarian response in almost all countries of the Sahel," said Kristalina Georgieva, the European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response.

She said the European Commission would give 142 million euros in humanitarian aid in 2014, but stressed that "more contributions from international donors are needed as soon as possible to meet the basic needs of the people in the Sahel."

The UN received 63 percent of the $1.7 billion it called for to aid the Sahel in 2013.