But the region, one of the poorest and most environmentally damaged places on earth, has deep troubles. In the 1970s, the Sahel captured international attention when drought and famine killed nearly 200,000 people. Though conditions have since improved, it has yet to shake a vicious cycle of soil erosion, insufficient irrigation, deforestation, overpopulation, desertification and drought. Parts of the region -- like Mali's legendary Timbuktu -- are now more Sahara than Sahel.
This is the first GIEWS report on the 2007 season on weather and crop conditions in the Sahelian countries of western Africa. Geographic coverage of these reports includes the nine CILSS (Permanent Inter-State Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel) member states: Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Chad, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal. Reports are issued each month from June to October.
These reports are prepared with data from, and in close collaboration with, FAO Representatives, the Agro-Meteorology Group and the Environmental Monitoring Group (SDRN), the Emergency Centre for Locust Operations (ECLO), the Emergency Operations Service (TCEO), the World Food Programme (WFP), as well as various Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s). In this report, satellite imagery provided by FAO/ARTEMIS, field data on rainfall, FAO agro-meteorological crop monitoring field reports and information provided by FAO Representatives up to 31August have been utilized. The satellite images of the first dekad of September have also been utilized for final updating.
The ongoing food crisis in the Sahel region has been complicated by violence in Mali, which in turn has sent refugees fleeing the conflict into neighboring countries. More than 1 million people have fled from their homes in the Sahel and are now refugees or displaced within their own countries.
Compounding existing food insecurity, the recent combination of erratic rains, failed crops, soaring food prices and regional instability has left millions of people hungry. The recurrence of this food crisis has eroded the region's resilience and coping abilities and has devastated residents of the Sahel region who already suffered from chronic poverty before. Many never recovered from the 2012 food crisis and are unable to withstand another blow to their livelihoods.
The situation is most dire and continues to deteriorate in Mali due to conflict. In Mali alone, estimates report that about 4 million people need humanitarian assistance, and 496,000 children under 5 are at risk of malnutrition. Neighboring countries such as Niger and Chad are now faced with an influx of refugees from Mali and little resources to support them. In addition to food insecurity, diseases such as cholera and measles remain a constant risk. Floods and locust infestations continue to hinder successful food production
Yet what began as a triumph quickly turned into Mali’s worst crisis since a coup two years ago. Fuelled by what diplomats describe as a combination of naivety and ambition, Mr Mara condemned the Tuareg violence as “a declaration of war” and promised an “appropriate response”. Around 1,500 troops, equipped with artillery, steamed north. Despite assurances from the government that dialogue was the only way forward, on May 21st they were ordered to attack the rebels.
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Within hours the army was in retreat. After trading heavy machinegun and rocket fire, rebels seized the government camp in Kidal, as well as a former French fort that has a commanding position above the fly-blown town. Separatist flags fluttered in the desert wind. At least 50 soldiers were killed in the encounter, 50 were taken prisoner, and 900 surrendered their weapons and sought refuge at a nearby UN post.