UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- More than 11 million people are still facing hunger in Africa's Sahel region and urgent international aid is needed, a top U.N. humanitarian official said Tuesday.
Robert Piper, the U.N. Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel, said the region is struggling to recover from a drought last year despite better projections for rain and harvest. He said climate change has unleashed crises like droughts more frequently on the Sahel, one of the poorest regions in the world, making it harder for farmers and villagers to recover. Last year's drought came barely two years after the previous one, he said.
Piper said the U.N. has asked for $1.7 billion in aid for the Sahel this year, but only 36 percent has been received. He said aid came quickly last year in response to the drought but the challenge is to keep it coming this year.
Piper said 11.4 million people still face food insecurity, including 5 million children at risk of acute malnutrition. That's down from the 18 million people last year but it's "still a huge caseload," he said at a news conference.
He said the appeal for Mali, where a violent conflict in the north as worsened the food crisis, is only 32 percent fulfilled. The Sahel also includes Senegal, Chad, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Mauritania, Niger and Gambia.
"These communities are still reeling from last year's drought," he said. "Crises in this region are becoming more frequent, they're coming closer and closer together and as a result, people are finding it harder and harder to get back on their feet.
"We have to recognize that one good agricultural season is not going to reverse the situation in a place like the Sahel," Piper added.
He said the multiplying crises are prompting families to make desperate decisions that exacerbate the problem in the long term. Those include pulling girls out of school, killing livestock not meant for immediate food consumption and taking on unmanageable debt.
Piper also called for better distribution of the international resources that do come in. He said 70 percent of the resources go to nutrition and refugee issues, which is helping reach 400,000 children under 5 each month. But agriculture has only received 10 percent of the required funds, meaning only 100,000 farmers have been reached, out of 6 million that the U.N. has targeted.
"That's serious because we are about to miss a planting season," he said.