Severe Flooding Compounds West Africa Food Crisis

Severe flooding across the Sahel region of West Africa has brought fresh misery to communities already suffering their worst food crisis in decades, reported a Christian relief group working in the area.

Several seasons of drought and failed harvests have caused ten million people to go hungry across the Sahel, and now, torrential rains have struck communities across Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without food and shelter.

Furthermore, fields remain inundated with water containing the bodies of drowned livestock and as a result, villagers, already weakened through lack of food, are now at risk of diseases such as malaria and cholera.

"We were hoping that a good rainy season would bring some relief to people across the Sahel, but the torrential rains have aggravated the lack of food for communities now and the prospects for the coming harvest season," reported Cristina Ruiz of U.K.-based Christian Aid.

According the relief group, the storms – which began in July and have continued throughout August – were so intense that many of the communities have now seen their homes, livestock and food reserves washed away.

As a result, up to 200,000 people have been left homeless in Niger where the river Niger burst its banks and all of the country's eight regions have seen some form of flooding.

An estimated 85,000 people have been directly affected in Burkina Faso and thousands more are suffering in Mali.

In the worst-hit communities, homeless families are crowding into schools to take shelter.

"Christian Aid and partners are working to alleviate suffering from the floods, meeting the immediate needs of families with food, blankets and other supplies as well as supporting those who lost their livelihoods and will not be able to harvest next season," reported Ruiz, who serves as Christian Aid's regional emergency manager for West Africa.

"Elsewhere in the region, we have created cash-for-work programs to help the most affected people afford the food they need," she added after noting how the rising price of grain in the markets across the region is also compounding the problem.

Already, imported food in the markets is too expensive for those most in need and the current uncertainty in the global food market is likely to push prices higher still.

Now, with the floods, the region's prospects of emerging from the food crisis have been dealt a major blow.

Earlier this summer, Caritas Internationalis said the Sahel region was heading for a humanitarian tragedy unless the international community responded to the mounting food crisis.

Though the lesson learned from the last major crisis in 2005 was that delays in aid cost lives, Raymond Yoro, secretary general of Caritas Niger, said donors have still been slow to provide funding despite the alarms raised in December 2009.

Caritas Internationalis stated in its report that at least ten million people in the Sahel region face hunger, including the eight million people at risk in Niger – the worst hit country.

Other communities affected by the crisis include those in Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania.