Charities appeal for fast funds in food crisis

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MILLIONS of people in West Africa are at risk of starvation following failed harvests, a deepening drought and rising food prices, charities have warned.

Oxfam and Save the Children have launched separate 7 million emergency appeals today to raise funds to tackle the emerging crisis in the region.

In parts of Niger and Chad, some are being reduced to eating maize meant for poultry, while some women are digging ant-hills to collect the grains and seeds the ants have stored, Oxfam said.

Mamadou Biteye, who heads Oxfam's work in West Africa, said: "We are witnessing an unfolding disaster which can be averted if we act quickly. People are already eating leaves. Donors need to act urgently before this crisis becomes a catastrophe."

The charity is spending 3m from its reserves to begin immediate aid, distributing food and animal feed, buying weak livestock at above market prices and making the meat available.

Niger is bearing the brunt of the problems, with Save the Children stating more than half of its population– 7.1 million – did not have enough food. Up to 380,000 children under five – one in eight – are facing severe malnutrition, it added.