Hundreds of thousands of people in Senegal and Mauritania are at risk of going hungry in the coming year because not enough grass has grown to feed the region’s cattle, analysts said on Friday.
Satellite maps show barren pastures across large swaths of the two West African countries, which means animals will die, robbing owners of their sole source of food and income.
“Livestock herding is the key pillar of food security for the area,” said Alex Orenstein, a data scientist specialising on pastoralism in the Sahel.
“Herders feel the pain first, but it touches everyone in the region soon enough,” he said.
A similar lack of pasture in 2017 left 5 million people needing food aid the subsequent year across six countries in West Africa’s Sahel region, a grassy zone below the Sahara desert.
There are not yet estimates of the number of people who could be affected by the current situation, but in some areas it looks worse than 2017, said Zakari Saley Bana, a disaster risk reduction advisor for the charity Action Against Hunger (ACF).
About 350,000 families depend on cattle herding in Senegal, according to a pastoralists’ association.
“The situation is very worrisome,” Saley Bana said, estimating that aid agencies will need to step up assistance.
The Sahel has a rainy season from July to September, after which herds must survive on whatever grass has grown until the next rainy season.
This year, the rain did not start until late August.