A distress call from Africa's Sahel: Millions might starve

A mother touches the head of her child suffering from severe malnutrition at medical center in Niger.

Story highlights

  • West African nations send a distress signal to the international community
  • Niger's minister for food security calls the situation "alarming"
  • The warning comes as a conference on food security concludes

The Economic Community of West African States sent a distress call Tuesday to the international community declaring that more than 6 million people are at risk of hunger in the Sahel region of Africa, including more than a million children exposed to severe malnutrition.

The distress call was issued at the end of a two-day, high-level meeting here to address the issue of food security in the region, especially in Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad.

Disaster looms for the people of Mali

"The situation is very alarming in the Sahel and, if nothing is done, millions may die from hunger," said Niger's minister for food security, Amadou Diallo. He participated in the meeting along with his regional counterparts in charge of agriculture, food security and trade. Also participating were representatives of a number of international organizations.

Diallo blamed the "alarming situation" on poor harvests, widespread drought and soaring food prices.

Hunger crisis plagues Mauritania
Hunger crisis plagues Mauritania


    Hunger crisis plagues Mauritania


Hunger crisis plagues Mauritania 02:50
One million kids at risk of malnutrition
One million kids at risk of malnutrition


    One million kids at risk of malnutrition


One million kids at risk of malnutrition 06:56

He said political turmoil in northern Mali had aggravated the situation, displacing nearly 300,000 people, including more than 160,000 who have migrated toward Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania -- all of them affected by food insecurity.

As an emergency response to the crisis, the West African community has released a package of $80 million -- one tenth of the estimated total need of $800 million.

Some international organizations have announced fundraising efforts to address the issue, and the United Nations World Food Programme has said it will beef up its response in the area.

"We will enhance and strengthen all systems we have in place to make sure that the food arrives in time, in quantity and to the right places," Claude Jibidar, the U.N. agency deputy regional director for West and Central Africa, told CNN.

According to Togo Prime Minister Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo, ECOWAS member states have recorded a 9% drop in cereal production this year compared with last.

"The time has come to act, and to act in a concerted manner to deal with the real and root causes of food crises in our region," he said.

      CNN recommends

    • pkg clancy north korea nuclear dreams_00002004.jpg

      North Korea nuclear dream video

      As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
    • Photos: Faces of the world

      Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
    • pkg rivers uk football match fixing_00005026.jpg

      How to fix a soccer match

      Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
    • No Eiffel Towers, Statues of Liberties, Mt. Rushmores, Taj Mahals, Aussie koalas or Chairman Maos.

      15 biggest souvenir-buying no-no's

      It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.