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 Tuesday, 28 January, 2003, 10:13 GMT
West Africa famine warning
Men show how little there is to eat a feeding centre
More than 400,000 Mauritanians need food aid

Hundreds of thousands of people in five countries in West Africa are threatened with starvation, says the United Nations World Food Programme.

The WFP has launched a fresh appeal for emergency relief saying needs are most pressing in Mauritania, where a third successive drought has had dire consequences for the local population.

WEST AFRICA'S DROUGHT
Mauritanian landscape
Mauritania
Senegal
The Gambia
Cape Verde
Mali
The WFP says it needs $28m to purchase food rations for people.

The situation in Mauritania remains the UN agency's main concern in this part of Africa.

The WFP's regional director for West Africa, Manuel Aranda da Silva, says 420,000 people there need food aid, most of them concentrated in the south of the country.

In the south the harvest has failed, food reserves are exhausted and malnutrition rates, particularly amongst children, have soared.

Mr Aranda da Silva says the worst hit region of Mauritania is the Aftout.

When I visited villages there in November, community leaders described the drought as the worst in more than 20 years, with people reduced to living off wild plants and berries.

Poor response

Government officials warned then they did not have the resources to cope with the crisis and time was running out.

The WFP and the Mauritanian Government have issued strong appeals in the past, but have so far been disappointed by the slow response from donors.

Mr Aranda da Silva says that despite the scale of the problems, there is a danger that Mauritania's needs are simply not registering, perhaps overshadowed by more publicised food shortages elsewhere in Africa.

Another country of particular concern to the WFP is Cape Verde.

Last year, the island nation appealed for food aid for the first time in more than 20 years as its harvest failed.

According to the WFP, many families have eaten their seed reserves and have nothing to plant for the next harvest.


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07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
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