Millions of farmers and herders in West Africa are threatened with hunger due to last year’s drought and locust invasion, severe child malnutrition is reportedly on the rise and immediate aid is needed to prevent the crisis from deteriorating further, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.“The situation is getting worse in the affected areas and unless aid comes now, hundred of thousands of people will be suffering the consequences for years to come,” the chief of FAO’s Emergency Operations Service, Fernanda Guerrieri, said of the crisis which is especially acute in Mali, Mauritania and Niger.“Farmers and herders who have lost their livelihoods because of drought and the locust invasion are living in poverty with very limited access to food,” she added.Farmers need seeds and agricultural inputs immediately to ensure the October 2005 harvest. Herders depend on animal feed distributions and veterinary services to keep their weakened animals alive. FAO has appealed for $11.4 million for emergency projects in the region. Projects in some countries are already operational but more funds are urgently needed.According to recent estimates, the sub-Saharan Sahel region as a whole registered a grain surplus of 85,000 tons, but Niger and Chad suffered grain deficits of around 224,000 and 217,000 tons, respectively. An increase in food prices is fuelling the food crisis, especially in Mali, Mauritania and Niger, where millions of people are at risk of food shortages, the agency said. In Mauritania, FAO emergency projects are bringing assistance to hundreds of thousands of people.Fortunately, the locust situation is expected to remain relatively calm this summer in West Africa and, contrary to last year, swarms from North-west Africa are not likely to invade the region this year. Even so intensive survey operations should nevertheless be immediately launched in Mali, Niger and Chad and continue in Mauritania, FAO said in its latest locust update, also issued today.In the most affected areas in Mali, Mauritania and Niger, access to food staples is increasingly difficult and severe child malnutrition is reported to be on the rise. The scarcity of water and fodder is seriously affecting the health of the cattle, camels, sheep and goats that are the only source of food and income for nomadic communities. Competition for limited resources has sometimes resulted in local conflicts.