Wodobere - In the northeastern nook of Senegal, one of the most stable and developed nations in the drought-hit Sahel region, carcasses of cattle lie in the sun, the fields have withered and food depleted.
As scanty rains wreaked havoc across the belt, hitting drought-weary Chad, Niger, Mali and other countries, this west African hub is struggling to provide food to its people and entire villages are going hungry.
“The shepherds and people have told us they feel as if they have been left to their own devices,” said famed Senegalese singer Baaba Maal, who last week toured the Matam region from where he originates.
In Wodobere, a town of about 6 000 people skirting Mauritania, Maal - an ambassador for British charity Oxfam - called for urgent aid to avert famine as he toured the region, listening to the concerns of villagers and giving concerts.
Crops have failed across eight countries after late and erratic rains in 2011, and aid agencies have raised the spectre of a food crisis bigger than the one which left millions starving in 2010.
This is the third drought in the Sahel in a decade, and while the previous ones were felt mostly in Niger and parts of Chad, this year it has unfolded across the entire region.
In Mbelogne, a hamlet where most of the 450 residents survive off animal husbandry, its chief Ely Hamady Diallo said: “There are problems both with food and water, for people and for the animals.”
Here a cow carcass lies on the cracked, scorched earth. Emaciated cattle lie in the shade, too weak to lift themselves. The only well, some two kilometres from the village, is nearly dry.
“We can't even respect tradition and offer you some cold milk. My cow died because she didn't have anything to eat or drink,” said Yacine Diallo, holding her daughter in her arms.
“We have nothing left,” said Diallo, who came to Mbelogne to see Maal, adding that the situation is the same in her nearby village of Ndouloumadji.
In another village named Dolel, chief Mamadou Gaye does not complain about the drought, but calls for water pumps, machines to irrigate the land and proper health infrastructure.
Patrick Ezeala, who works with Oxfam in the region, said the food crisis is currently affecting 800 000 people in Senegal.
As the country struggles to feed its 13 million inhabitants, it imports basic goods such as rice, forcing the prices up.
“Twenty million people (in the Sahel) are threatened with famine because of a lack of rain, climate change, and the flare in the prices of basic goods,” said Maal after a concert in Wodobere which attracted several hundred people.
“In a few months' time, the worst could unfold in front of our eyes. We need to act now,” he said, calling on authorities and international organisations to intervene and avoid a worst-case scenario.
Fatouma Sow and Penda Ndiaye came decked up for the concert, and after singing and dancing they reflected on the message of one of the country's most respected artists.
“He spoke of a food crisis, it concerns us too. Before a kilo of rice cost 250 CFA francs, now it is 350 CFA francs (0.53 euro cents, $0.67). Here, it is hard for everyone,” said Sow. - Sapa-AFP