An international aid group warned Friday of a growing famine risk in West Africa, amid reports of villagers raiding ant hills to take food from the insects.
Adding to an alert already sounded by the United Nations in recent days, the Oxfam group said: “A lethal mix of drought, high food prices, entrenched poverty and regional conflict is behind the crisis” hitting Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and northern Senegal.
It said 13 million people were at risk in the Sahel region unless action is taken. The United Nations has made an international appeal for $720 million for the Sahel countries and Oxfam said it needs $38 million to feed one million people most at risk.
The crisis will “escalate into a full scale humanitarian emergency” if urgent action is not taken, Oxfam said in a statement.
It said malnutrition rates in some areas of Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and northern Senegal have gone over the emergency threshold level of 15 percent.
More than one million children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition, it added. The UN already estimates that 300,000 children die a year in the Sahel region from malnutrition-related causes.
“In parts of Chad some villagers have been reduced to pounding ant hills to gather grain the ants have stored. They say unless they get help they will have to abandon their villages in a month’s time,” said Oxfam.
“A concerted aid effort is needed to stop tens of thousands dying due to international complacency,” said Mamadou Biteye, Oxfam’s regional director for West Africa.
Tens of thousands of people died in a famine in Somalia last year and the United Nations has made repeated warnings of a new crisis on the opposite side of the continent.