End Times News Update
Sign: Famine
Scripture: Matthew 24:7
News Source: My Way News

Millions face hunger in arid belt of Africa

By JON GAMBRELL (AP) – 18 hours ago

GADABEJI, Niger — At this time of year, the Gadabeji Reserve should be
refuge for the nomadic tribes who travel across a moonscape on the
edge of the Sahara to graze their cattle. But the grass is meager
after a drought killed off the last year’s crops. Now the cattle are
too weak to stand and too skinny to sell, leaving the poor without any
way to buy grain to feed their families.

The threat of famine is again stalking the Sahel, a band of semiarid
land stretching across Africa south of the Sahara. The U.N. World Food
Program warned on Friday that some 10 million people face hunger over
the next three months before the next harvest in September — if it

“People have lost crops, livestock, and the ability to cope on their
own, and the levels of malnutrition among women and children have
already risen to very high levels,” said Thomas Yanga, WFP Regional
Director for West Africa.

The U.N.’s humanitarian chief, John Holmes, said at the end of a
four-day visit to neighboring Chad that many Chadians have gone as far
as Libya to search for food.

“The level of malnutrition is already beyond the danger point,” Holmes
said Thursday. “If we do not act now or as quickly as possible, there
is a chance the food crisis will become a disaster.”

In Niger, some say the growing food crisis could be worse than the one
that struck the country in 2005, when aid organizations treated tens
of thousands of children for malnutrition.

“We have lost so much we cannot count,” said one 45-year-old tribesman
with a family of 20 to feed. He and others on Gadabeji Reserve drive
starving donkeys through the burnt orange haze of a sandstorm to
gather what little water they can on the desiccated plain and struggle
to draw water from private wells.

Famine is nothing new to Niger, a former French colony nearly twice
the size of Texas. The Sahel cuts through the middle of the country,
serving as the dividing line between the sands of the Sahara and the
lush farmlands of neighboring Nigeria to the south. Severe droughts
have punctuated the region’s history for centuries.

Yet outside of uranium mining, agriculture serves as the sole economic
engine for a country where just more than a quarter of the population
knows how to read. Generation after generation follows worn seasonal
tracks, their belongings often fitted onto a single donkey-driven

Typically, the herders move south at the onset of December, searching
for grazing lands. But this year they found only dried lakes and
diminishing wells, said Hasane Baka, a regional administrator for
AREN, a Nigerien development group for cattlemen.

“People were moving in all directions,” Baka said.

Some have crossed into Nigeria, begging for food on the streets of the
northern city of Katsina. Others remain behind with their cattle,
knowing the livestock would die on a long trip south that could end
with Nigerian police simply turning them back. Instead, they wait for
rains that might not come.

Those who remain drive their cows into Dakoro, the largest and closest
city for nomadic cattlemen. At the open-air market, the ribs of some
cattle are starkly visible against their hides. Others die along the
road or in trucks on the way.

“You can see the skin and bones of much of them,” said trader Ibrahim
Tarbanassa, 68.

A single cow once sold for the equivalent of $200. Now, some go for as
little as $120 — if they sell at all. Food prices remain high after
speculators cornered the already poor harvest last year.

Even in better times, roughly half of Niger’s children suffered
stunted growth. Now, mothers walk their children as far as 30
kilometers (18.6 miles) to reach one of two aid stations operated by
Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, said Barbara
Maccagno, the agency’s medical coordinator in Niger. The two stations
now see about 1,000 children a week, some two or three times
underweight, Maccagno said. The number of admissions has doubled in
recent weeks.

“It’s very hot and without any food available to the family, we’re
afraid we’ll see more,” she said.

Maccagno said her agency could offer children meals of
vitamin-enriched powdered milks and other foods to help bring a
child’s weight up, but many children need up to five weeks to gain a
stable weight. During that time, the mother must stay with the child,
impossible for those who left other children behind, she said.

Other agencies like Oxfam hand out cereals and grains directly to
nomadic families living in the bush, but money for such aid is short
because of the global economic downturn. The WFP said it has a $96
million shortfall for a program it planned for 1.5 million people in
the worst-hit areas of Niger.

Niger’s government, now being run by a military council after a
February coup ousted President Mamadou Tandja, has said it will
provide more than 21,000 tons of food. In 2005, Tandja played down a
similar food crisis, dismissing it as “false propaganda” used by the
U.N., aid agencies and opposition parties for political and economic

Each drought and crisis ends up gaining its own name. In 2005, traders
and nomads began to refer to the crisis as the Tandja famine.

There’s no name yet for the drought now facing the country. Many can
only wait in a nation that faces cyclical hunger without an end in

“Every time, it’s the same situation,” Maccagno said.


Associated Press writer Dany Padire in N’Djamena, Chad, contributed to
this report.

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