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

From Erick Kaglan for CNN
June 6, 2012 -- Updated 1001 GMT (1801 HKT)
A mother touches the head of her child suffering from severe malnutrition at medical center in Niger.
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

Lome, Togo (CNN) -- 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.

Hunger crisis plagues Mauritania
One million kids at risk of malnutrition

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

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.

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