Sahel states to discuss water shortages
NOUAKCHOTT (AFP) Jan 25, 2004
The leaders of nine countries in the Sahel -- along the southern rim of the Sahara desert -- were meeting on Sunday evening in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott to discuss ways of managing water and agricultural resources in their arid region.

The heads of the nine-nation Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) was expected to agree on guidelines for action over the next 10 years to protect their environment, CILSS executive secretary Moussa Mbenga told AFP.

These actions would centre on managing water resources, halting soil degradation, livestock, irrigation and projects to provide artificial rains, Mbenga said.

CILSS was formed in 1973 by Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Chad, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal and holds a summit every three years.

It funds research on food security and combating the effects of drought and desertification in the Sahel, a region covering 5.4 million square kilometres (2.2 million square miles) inhabited by more than 50 million people.

The summit on Sunday was being attended by the presidents of all the CILSS states except Burkina and Chad, who were being represented by their prime ministers.

The Sahel is a transitional zone between the arid North and the tropical forests bordering the ocean to its south. Harvests are uncertain and the only viable plants are those that can withstand droughts.

In November 2003 scientists at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) said food shortages in sub-Saharan Africa were likely to get worse in the next two decades unless urgent measures were taken to preserve water resources.

In January last year the United Nations food agency, the World Food Programme, urged the international community to provide emergency relief for hundreds of thousands of people threatened by famine in the western Sahel following years of drought.

Ten months later, the region experienced exceptionally heavy rains and floods, which the Red Cross said had left 30,000 people in need of urgent aid.