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13 million people face humanitarian 'catastrophe' in West Africa

Urgent action is needed to stop drought in West Africa’s Sahel region from turning into a humanitarian disaster, the charity Oxfam said Friday, as it launched a $36.6 million emergency appeal for the region.

West africa drought 2012 03 09Enlarge
More than one million children in the Sahel are at risk of severe malnutrition, Oxfam says, with a mix of drought, high food prices and conflict to blame for the crisis. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

Drought in West Africa’s Sahel region will turn into a humanitarian disaster affecting 13 million people unless urgent action is taken, the charity Oxfam said Friday, as it launched a $36.6 million emergency appeal to reach more than a million of the most vulnerable.

The NGO warns that levels of malnutrition across Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and northern Senegal are hovering between 10 percent and 15 percent, with rates in some areas exceeding 15 percent, the emergency threshold under the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, The Guardian reports.

More than one million children in the Sahel are at risk of severe malnutrition, the charity says, while in parts of Chad villagers are digging up ant hills to collect the grain the ants have stored, according to the BBC.

More from GlobalPost: 1 million children in Sahel could starve, says UNICEF

The governments of Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger have all declared emergencies and asked for international assistance. Oxfam says a mix of drought, high food prices and conflict are to blame for the crisis.

Food prices across the region are reportedly up to 50 percent higher than the five-year average, and could be pushed up even more during the peak of the “hunger season” when food stocks dwindle in July and August.

“Millions of people are on the threshold of a major crisis,” Mamadou Biteye, Oxfam Regional Director for West Africa, said.

“All signs point to a drought becoming a catastrophe if nothing is done soon. The world cannot allow this to happen. A concerted aid effort is needed to stop tens of thousands dying due to international complacency.”

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Clashes between Tuareg rebels and the army in northern Mali have caused nearly 130,000 people to flee their homes, adding extra pressure for resources in surrounding countries like Niger, according to GlobalPost.

Meanwhile, US officials pledged Thursday to work for permanent solutions to fight hunger in the Horn of Africa, cautioning that while Somalia’s famine is officially over the situation remains a major crisis, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Ten of thousands died in the half-year famine, which Oxfam says the international community waited to long to tackle. US officials, testifying before Congress, credited better rains for the improved conditions, and said the core solution to Somalia’s woes was to stabilize the country and stop Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab rebels hindering foreign aid. 

More from GlobalPost: Somalia famine over, UN says, but Sahel food crisis worsens

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/120309/13-million-people-face-humanitarian-catastrophe-west-africa