Millions of people in Africa's turbulent Sahel region are on the brink of starvation due to drought and conflict.
Speaking from Niger, Ertharin Cousin, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme warned that the situation is critical, "There are over nine million people potentially being impacted by the lack of access to food as we move into the lean season in June. We have started the work on ground. We have an opportunity to ensure that this crisis does not become a famine."
An estimated 15 million people are currently facing food shortage in the Sahel, a belt of land spanning nearly a dozen of the world's poorest countries on the southern rim of the Sahara, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.
The food crisis is not only due to failed rains, but also the after-effects of the Libyan war, the shockwaves from Nigeria's battle with Islamist sect Boko Haram and most recently a coup by renegade low-ranking military officers and a Tuareg rebellion in Mali.
160,000 refugees from Mali have now crossed into the neighbouring countries of Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso. Refugees from Mali have put a further strain on communities that were already facing a severe food shortage.
In Niger, the World Food Programme has launched an emergency operation to support 3.3 million people, with a special focus on children under two. Over 423,000 people have already received support through food-for-assets and cash-for-work programs. However, more aid is needed to avoid the situation getting worse.