The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today appealed for immediate food aid for 400,000 people in Mauritania, where locusts and drought have obliterated agricultural production, the cornerstone of families’ survival.“The international community must respond if we are to avoid a humanitarian crisis in Mauritania,” WFP’s country representative Sory Ouane said of the appeal for $30.8 million for a 2005-07 operation covering urgent needs. “This kind of food shortage, in an already burdened country like Mauritania, can only spell further deterioration of rural households’ livelihoods unless we act now.”In the worst invasion in 15 years in the Sahel region bordering the Sahara, locusts infested Mauritania’s entire agricultural production zone. The south, the hardest hit area, is home to about a quarter of the population of nearly 3 million and families living there have virtually no access to non-agricultural income.A WFP vulnerability study shows that 60 per cent of households in the agro-pastoral zone will not have enough to eat in the coming year, and the lean season during 2005 is expected to be harsher than usual.Locusts wiped out not only cereals in Mauritania but also pulses and other vegetables. Crop assessments indicate a food deficit of 187,000 tons. Insufficient rainfall also hampered production. In addition, the locusts and drought have damaged the rangelands vital to cattle which are essential to people’s livelihoods.“Entire harvests, where the people have invested their money, time and toil for so long, are simply gone. We must act now,” Mr. Ouane said. “The right assistance now for the people of Mauritania will go a long way – not only to save lives today but also to help people avoid falling into a cycle of food crises that could last for years to come.”Despite the magnitude of the 2004 locust invasions throughout the Sahel, they did not provoke a region-wide food crisis. But in addition to Mauritania, Niger and Mali have suffered severe damage, with drought compounding the problem. The impact is localized however, and WFP will implement tailored food aid responses to those communities facing acute shortages.