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Focus switches to other drought-hit countries

Locusts have devastated parts of western Africa

(Keystone)

Switzerland has welcomed a United Nations’ appeal for more help for Mali, Burkina Faso and Mauritania which, like Niger, are also facing food shortages.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) said on Wednesday that it had already taken steps to help fight the devastating effects of drought and locusts in West Africa.

The UN warned earlier this week that food shortages in the West African country of Niger were also having an impact on three other countries in the region.

The world body said at least 2.5 million people in Mali, Burkina Faso and Mauritania also needed food aid. As in Niger, drought and locusts hit crops in these countries.

Aid is now beginning to arrive in Niger, where the UN has estimated 2.5 million people are short of food. The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies puts this figure at 3.6 million.

Switzerland allocated an emergency food aid credit for Niger of SFr332,000 ($260,000) in May and a further SFr500,000 in June.

"We already knew last year that the situation would be very complicated and dangerous because of the drought situation, so our people there took measures at the beginning of this year to try to prevent... the consequences of this drought," SDC spokesman Jean-Philippe Jutzi told swissinfo.

Jutzi revealed that extra money had been donated earlier this year for food aid in Niger and Mali. But he said no additional measures were being taken in Burkina Faso, as the situation there did not appear as critical as in the other two countries. The SDC has offices in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, but no projects in Mauritania.

Monitoring situation

Jutzi said the SDC was monitoring the situation on a daily basis and was in a position to respond if necessary.

"The evolution of the situation means that [the region] will not necessarily need further help because the international community and the UN system is finally implementing lots of programmes there and delivering food," he said.

"With the rainy season coming within the next few months the situation should improve," he added.

The UN says that 1.1 million people in Mali will require food aid this year and that 500,000 people are in need in Burkina Faso. In Mauritania 26 per cent of the population – 750,000 people – are experiencing food shortages owing to last year’s locust plague.

Last Friday the Geneva-based International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies also warned of a crisis in the region.

Asked why the world was only now reacting to the long-term drought in the region, Jutzi said one possible explanation, which has been discussed at the UN, could be "donor fatigue" after the tsunami in southeast Asia in December last year.

"The donor community maybe gave too much or focused too much on the consequences of the tsunami, and they took their eyes off the other silent crisis – the drought in Africa," he said.

swissinfo

Key facts

The UN estimates that 2.5 million people are affected by a hunger crisis in Niger.
1.1 million people are affected in Mali.
750,000 million people are affected in Mauritania.
500,000 million people are affected in Burkina Faso.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies estimates that in total 8 million people could be affected.

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