A slow-motion catastrophe
DAKAR, 21 July 2010 (IRIN) - The West African Sahel is facing one of the worst food and nutrition crises in recent years.

Some 10 million people in Niger, Chad, Mali and Mauritania are at risk of hunger before the next harvest in late September; hundreds of thousands of children are severely malnourished; and people’s most precious asset, their livestock, have died in large numbers.

In late 2009 the US-based Famine Early Warning Systems Network highlighted signs of the crisis: a major drop in cereal production and poor pastoral conditions due to failed rains, and a dangerous combination of poverty and high food prices.

UN agencies, NGOs and governments have been trying to ease the crisis, but say funding has been insufficient and late, given that bringing food to landlocked countries with hardly any infrastructure can take up to five months.

The situation in Chad’s Sahelian belt running across the centre of the country is especially worrying: While malnutrition figures are alarmingly high - up to 27 percent of under-five children in some areas - the number of organizations on the ground is limited. People have compared the situation there to the crisis in Niger in 2005.

People struggle every year in the Sahel countries, among the poorest in the world. A third of the population of Chad and Niger are chronically undernourished - regardless of the size of the harvest. Each year, 300,000 under-five children die of malnutrition, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

IRIN’s coverage of these issues is presented in this series of articles.

Chronic nutrition problems more 

MALI: Pockets of extreme vulnerability persist
SAHEL: After 30 years, nutrition strategy revamp at hand
CAMEROON: Soaring child malnutrition in north
CHAD: Malnutrition outstrips response
SAHEL: Peanut pastes and milk powders to save children

Pervasive food insecurity

CHAD: Factors behind the food crisis
NIGERIA: Fallout from Niger food crisis
LIBERIA: Urban gardens to boost food security
NIGER-NIGERIA: Low rains, high risks
BURKINA FASO: Food voucher need surpasses resources, WFP says

Battling water scarcity

BURKINA FASO: Boost for garden drip irrigation
MALI: Water has become a "luxury"
NIGER: Thirsty as well as hungry
CHAD: X-raying the desert for water
Sahel: Region is “ground zero” for climate change
Jan Egeland’s Sahel climate change diary
Day 5
Day 3

"We drew lots to decide which children to help"
BAGGA, Like millions of Nigeriens, residents of Bagga village, in the central region of Tahoua, have been struggling to find enough food to eat. Granaries are empty and harvests are not due for another two months. IRIN spoke to some of the villagers.
full report
Livestock and lives at risk

MALI: Cured meat as a cure
MALI: Doctors and vets work together in north
NIGER: Chasing after pastoralists with truckloads of aid
In Brief: Mixed blessing of first rain
NIGER: Forced to sell cattle for a handful of dollars
CHAD: When the cattle die, so does wealth
BURKINA FASO: Feed the cows
NIGER: Poor animal health threatens human nutrition

Preventing future crises

WEST AFRICA: Growing food for nutrition
NIGER: Small steps towards a sustainable future
HOW TO: Prevent the Sahel's next food crisis
WEST AFRICA: The Sahel's nutrition revolution
CHAD: Adapting emergency food aid to combat malnutrition
NIGER: Experts explain why malnutrition is recurrent

Funding the response

WEST AFRICA: Call for more aid as 10 million face hunger
MALI: Oxfam raises alert on funding shortfall
NIGER: Agencies call for $190 million to stem crisis
GLOBAL: $8.8 billion the magic malnutrition number?
GLOBAL: “Hunger season” neglected

Previous crises

SAHEL: Strategic shift in battle against region’s hunger
SAHEL: Poor markets mean hunger in year of plenty
SAHEL: Flood season starts but not where it should
SAHEL: Aid organisations part of the problem, NGO report says
SAHEL: Climate change impacting hard on semi-arid Sahel nations
NIGER: Hungry for help: Food crisis in Niger (film)
MAURITANIA: Struggling to cope in pre-harvest lean season
MALI: Urbanisation fuelling begging on streets of capital