More than 9 million in Sahel face food crisis: Oxfam

DAKAR Mon Dec 12, 2011 6:49pm EST

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DAKAR (Reuters) - More than nine million people in five countries in Africa's Sahel region face food crisis next year, following low rainfall, poor harvests, high food prices and a drop in remittances from migrants, aid agency Oxfam said on Monday.

People in Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad, are at particularly high risk, with national food reserves dangerously low and prices of some key cereals as much as 40 percent higher than the five-year average.

"The food situation in the region is once again alarming," Eric Hazard, Oxfam regional economic justice manager, told a news conference in Dakar. "We are in a region today where we have a cereal deficit of about 2.5 million tonnes."

In some countries such as Chad and Mauritania, estimates show a fall in cereal production of about 50 percent, compared with last year's production.

Hazard said the most alarming situation is in Niger where six million - almost a half of the population - were at risk.

In Mali, 2.9 million people live in areas that may be hit by food shortage next year, while in Mauritania 700,000 people - more than a quarter of the population - are reported as at risk of severe food insecurity.

The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) estimates between five and seven million people are affected by what it called climate-related crisis and are in need of urgent assistance, with at least a million children in the Sahel facing malnutrition next year.

Risk has been heightened by the drying up of remittances from relatives in diasporas after conflicts in Libya and Ivory Coast, said Marietou Diaby, deputy head of Oxfam in Mali.

"Many of these people depended on remittances from relatives in Libya to buy food. As a result of the war in Libya many relatives have returned without a means of revenue. That means there is very little food production and there is little or no money to acquire food," Diaby said.

The Sahel's continuing struggle to feed its population has also been overshadowed this year by the crisis in the Horn of Africa, which has left more than 13 million people at risk of starvation in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti.

Oxfam urged governments in the Sahel to be ready to take action to avert similar food shortages to those recorded in 2005 and 2010. The last severe food shortage in the region in 2010 affected about 10 million people.

(Reporting by Bate Felix and George Fominyen; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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