Last chance to stop sub-Sahara food crisis: EU

BRUSSELS Mon Jun 18, 2012 10:43am EDT

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - As many as 18 million people are being hit by a growing food emergency in the Sahel region of Africa, international donors and campaigners said on Monday, calling for urgent action to prevent mass hunger in the vast area south of the Sahara desert.

Immediate support could help people avoid having to eat their seed stock or sell farming tools to buy food, the European Commission said at a meeting of aid agencies and donors.

"It is our last chance to get to people when the crisis peaks. Right now people in the Sahel are starting to scrape the bottom of empty grain stores," EU humanitarian aid commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva, said in a statement.

Leaders from Sahel countries and donors such as the European Union and USAID met in anticipation of the peak of the regional "hunger season", worsened this year by the failure of last year's rains across the Sahel belt.

In addition to food shortages, the Sahel faces increased security risks after a rebel takeover in the northern Mali emboldened regional militants.

The European Commission pledged 40 million euros ($50.5 million) of additional humanitarian aid to the region, bringing the total from the 27-member bloc to 337 million euros, some of which would help provide food and shelter to 400,000 people displaced by the Mali conflict.

Aid agency Oxfam urged donors at the meeting to fill a "massive funding gap" to fight hunger in the Sahel.

($1 = 0.7921 euros)

(Reporting by Stephanie Ebbs; Editing by Rex Merrifield and Robin Pomeroy)

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