More funding is needed to avert a humanitarian disaster in Africa's Sahel region where up to 14 million people are suffering from food shortages, the international Red Cross said on Tuesday.
The emerging crisis in the desert area is underfunded because early warnings are going unheeded, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said.
The UN estimates that as many as 23 million people could be hit by the food crisis in Niger, Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Senegal, spurred by poor harvests last year.
The Sahel belt is particularly sensitive to drought and famine. In 2010 some 10 million people were affected by a severe food crisis.
"IFRC is urging donors to come to the aid of the Sahel but also to invest in longer term resilience to break the cycle of chronic food shortages in the region," a statement said.
Momodou Lamin Fye, who represents the IFRC in the Sahel, has just returned from Mauritania.
"I saw for myself how severe the situation is," he told a journalists' briefing.
"It could quickly develop into a humanitarian disaster if the world does not start paying attention to the plight," he said.
The UN World Food Programme said it will host a meeting of humanitarian agencies and donor governments on Wednesday to address the need to increase aid.
"The time to act is now," said WFP executive director Josette Sheeran in a statement.
"This gathering comes at a critical moment as humanitarian agencies are gearing up their responses in an effort to prevent a crisis becoming a disaster."© ANP/AFP