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XINHUA NEWS SERVICE REPORTS FROM THE AFRICAN CONTINENT

 

FAO chief warns of famine around Lake Chad, action needed   

By Eric J. Lyman ROME, (Xinhua) -- Years of warming temperatures, extremist violence, and outdated farming methods are putting large parts of four countries surrounding Africa’s Lake Chad on the edge of famine, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned Tuesday.

“The area is facing a humanitarian and environmental crisis that will grow even more desperate if action is not taken almost immediately,” said FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva, who has just returned from a three-day trip to the Lake Chad area.

The area provides drinking water for villages and livestock, helps irrigate agricultural lands, and supports fishing resources for parts of Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria.

With the main planting season set to start in May and June, getting seed packs to impoverished farmers in time was a key way to improve food security in the region, the FAO chief told reporters.

But so far, money promised by donor nations to help pay for seed packs and other programs in the region has been slow in arriving. Of the 62 million U.S. dollars promised last year, only 10 million has so far been made available, according to Graziano da Silva.

Without fund, as many as 50,000 people in the Lake Chad region could face famine, he said.

“These are pastoral people,” Graziano da Silva said, “without agriculture, without their animals, they are at risk of dying.”

The dramatic reduction in the amount of water in Lake Chad is one of the main factors in the diminishing prospects for local residents.

In 1960, Lake Chad covered 22,000 square km of territory and was the sixth-largest freshwater body in the world. Now, it covers only 300 square km, only 13.6 percent of its size 57 years ago.

Graziano da Silva said the main factors behind the drying up of the lake are a changing climate and the inefficient use of water for local agriculture.

The dire situation is exacerbated by activities of Boko Haram, a Nigeria-based extremist group with ties to the Islamic State. The presence of Boko Haram can make it difficult for aid to reach many parts of the impacted regions.

“Now the region is more stable,” Graziano da Silva said. “The extremists have less influence and the impact of El Nino has finally subsided. The time to take action is now.”

He predicted that problems like the one surrounding Lake Chad would become more common with time.

He said the use of modern drip irrigation is one of the main reforms that will help reduce stress on Lake Chad.

The director-general also said it is important to help compensate farmers for livestock loss, provide a wider variety of resilient seeds and train farmers.

“Unless we respond to problems in crisis mode, the problems will never be solved,” he said. “Of course the first goal is to bring food to starving population. But after that, we have to follow through with ways to make food production more sustainable, more autonomous, and more resilient.”

             

 

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