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'13 million on brink of crisis'

Drought has left 13 million people on the brink of a full-scale humanitarian crisis in West Africa, a leading British charity has said.

Oxfam said tens of thousands of people in the Sahel region of west and central Africa could die in the coming months if the international community did not distribute much needed aid immediately.

The charity said western governments and aid agencies risked making the mistakes of last year in the Horn of Africa, where the famine may have been far less severe had there been a swifter response to the crisis as it developed.

In parts of Chad, Mali and Niger, the malnutrition rates have exceeded 15%, with more than one million children at risk of starvation. Aid workers declare a famine once malnutrition rates exceed 30%.

The next harvest in the region is due in October and the United Nations estimates more than £450 million of aid is needed to avert a humanitarian crisis.

Mamadou Biteye, Oxfam regional director in West Africa, said: "Millions of people are on the threshold of a major crisis. All signs point to a drought becoming a catastrophe if nothing is done soon. The world cannot allow this to happen.

"A concerted aid effort is needed to stop tens of thousands dying due to international complacency. We witnessed last year the situation spiralling out of control in East Africa as the aid community failed to act swiftly. The worst can be avoided and thousands of lives will be saved if we act now. It's that simple."

Oxfam revealed the grim details of the situation in the Sahel region as it launched an emergency appeal to raise £23 million, which would be used to reach the one million people most in need of help.

Villagers in some parts of Chad are so desperate for food they are searching ant hills to retrieve grain collected by ants, while in Niger some 33,000 children have left school to migrate with their parents in search of food.

Erratic rain fall has been blamed for a poor harvest in Niger, Chad and Mauritania and Mali. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, agricultural production in the region is down 25% from 2010.

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