13 March 2003, Rome -- Almost two million people are facing serious food shortages in five countries west of the Sahel, FAO said, as it renewed its appeal for funds for emergency projects in the area.

Drought and poor harvests in Cape Verde, the Gambia, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal as well as political instability in Côte d'Ivoire, have combined to leave many people in need of urgent food assistance.

"A whole series of factors have created a situation where people who were normally self-sufficient and could buy their own food can no longer do so," explained Anne M. Bauer, Director for FAO's Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation.

A joint FAO and World Food Programme (WFP) appeal last December for $28 million for the area has so far received only 23 percent of the total and the situation continues to deteriorate.

Cereal Deficit

A recent joint mission to the region by FAO and the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) estimated that there is a total cereal deficit of 611 350 tonnes in the area.

"The lean period, when family food stocks have been depleted, normally begins in June or July but it has already started in many parts of West Africa," Bauer said.

Drought in Senegal, for example, has shrivelled harvests of peanuts, a crop used by many farmers to raise money to buy food, and forced up the prices of other staple crops. The peanut harvest is down over 70 percent from a year ago and over half of all households living in rural areas are short of food.

Drastic Measures

"Families are taking drastic measures like eating fewer, smaller meals which makes them more vulnerable to illness, and selling off their livestock and belongings which deprives them of security for the future," Bauer added.

In Mauritania some 600 000 people face food shortages and, with the current levels of estimated harvests and pledges of aid, the country is expected to meet only two thirds of its cereal needs.

In Mali, bordering war-torn Côte d'Ivoire, over 130 000 people who had settled there are fleeing back across the border and arriving empty-handed, dependent on their families and on aid.

The influx of refugees risks worsening an economic situation where already 73 percent of the population live on less than a dollar a day. Mali has the worst cereal deficit of the area with some 213 000 tonnes of cereals needed.

Erratic rain in the Gambia has seriously affected more than 360 000 people, mostly in rural areas. FAO is seeking funds for vegetable production and water management projects, as part of FAO's Special Programme for Food Security.

WFP and FAO's emergency projects will include food aid and seeds, tools and fertilizer distribution for immediate short-term relief for affected households. FAO is also planning to provide technical assistance on irrigation to address longer-term food needs.
Contact:
Stephanie Holmes
Information Officer, FAO
stephanie.holmes@fao.org
(+39) 06 570 56350