Hundreds of thousands starving as food crisis hits peak in West Africa

By Oxfam

DAKAR--Insufficient funding and delays in food delivery threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands in the Sahel belt of West Africa, warns the international agency Oxfam. The relief group said there was little excuse for the lack of adequate funding and delays when the international community had been warned of the magnitude of the unfolding crisis for months.

Over 10 million people across the region are suffering from a food crisis since March following drought and erratic rains last year that caused poor food harvests and water shortages.

“We’re now at the peak of the emergency and the next few weeks will be critical for hundreds of thousands,” said Etienne du Vachat, head of Oxfam’s humanitarian response in Niger. “With two long months still to go before the harvests, this crisis demands a much more generous and faster international response.”

Oxfam said that the current aid available is seriously insufficient and cannot meet large-scale needs. By the end of July 2010, only one third of the resources required to help save lives had been delivered.

“Recent announcements by key donors are welcomed and needed, but this must be matched by actual deeds,” said Kirsty Hughes, head of Oxfam’s policy and campaigns department, who has just returned from the region.

“It’s appalling that aid has arrived so slowly as agencies have warned since last November about the severity of the situation,” Hughes said.

In Niger, the World Food Programme recently announced that it would be rapidly scaling up its operations to feed 7.9 million people this year. But insufficient funding, delivery and other logistical constraints mean that it is likely this ambitious target will not be met – potentially leaving millions without aid. With the rainy season bringing floods and hampering aid distribution, international agencies and donors need to urgently intensify aid efforts before it is too late, Oxfam said.

In Chad, two million also face hunger, with many children badly malnourished.  In Mali, Oxfam says people are not receiving the help they need in the face of a deteriorating situation in the northern part of the country.

Oxfam said that at this late stage cash and voucher-based programs should be used as quicker, cheaper and more effective alternatives to food aid. The agency said that only a fraction of the most affected communities are currently targeted for cash distributions, a number that must increase.

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