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Malnutrition Persistent in West Africa's Sahel Region


Despite predictions of a good harvest, nutrition experts still expect hunger to be a major problem in West Africa's Sahel Region in the coming year. The United Nations' World Food Program estimates over a third of all children under five in the region are not eating enough. And this, even though, rains have been sufficient.

The World Food Program says the Sahel region, which stretches along the southern edge of the Sahara, is home to one of the highest rates of child mortality in the world, largely because of malnutrition.

Last year in Niger, drought and problems with food distribution created major food shortages. More than one million people depended on U.N. food aid. The crisis drew lots of media attention.

But WFP Senior Deputy Executive Director Jean-Jacques Graisse says the region's food problems usually go unnoticed.

Graisse said, "It is just that the world community has paid so much attention to major crises that it has not paid attention to a problem, which has been with us in the Sahel for many, many years and has not gotten the attention it deserves. The fact that the severe malnutrition is so grave for so many children in the Sahel is just totally unacceptable."

Graisse says malnutrition can stunt physical and intellectual growth, affecting children long into adulthood.

The World Food Program expects the cost of feeding more than half-a-million children and their mothers next year in the hardest-hit parts of the region will top $47 millions. The organization is making an appeal to donor countries. The United States and Saudi Arabia recently announced contributions of about $5 millions each.

Farmers in the Sahel have a difficult time growing enough food because of the arid climate.

Insects can also ruin crops. This weekend in Mauritania, agriculture experts discovered the return of a cricket blamed for devastating crops two years ago, creating food shortages affecting a million people.