Pope calls on world to help Africans in desert region

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI urged the international community to address the problems of poverty and malnutrition in Africa’s Sahel region.

“The Sahel was seriously threatened again in recent months by a notable decrease in food resources and by famine caused by a lack of rain and the resulting increase in desertification,” the pope told members of the John Paul II Foundation for the Sahel Feb. 10.

He said that for residents of the Sahel, “living conditions are deteriorating.”

Pope Benedict noted that Africa is often described as the continent of conflict and infinite problems, but he said the opposite is true. For the church, he said, Africa “is the continent of hope.”

The Sahel is a region of semiarid grassland and desert south of the Sahara Desert.

U.N. agencies and nongovernmental organizations estimate that 6 million people in Niger are highly vulnerable to food insecurity, extreme poverty and malnutrition; 2.9 million in Mali; 700,000 in Mauritania; and more than 2 million in Burkina Faso. Thirteen of Chad’s 22 regions could be affected by food insecurity.

In 1980, following his first visit to Africa, Blessed John Paul II founded the Sahel foundation to combat desertification in Africa.