(Reuters) - As many as 18 million people are being hit by a growing food emergency in the Sahel region of Africa, international donors and campaigners said on Monday, calling for urgent action to prevent mass hunger in the vast area south of the Sahara desert.
Leaders from Sahel countries and donors such as the European Union and the United States Agency for International Development met in anticipation of the region's "hunger season", worsened by the failure of last year's rains across the Sahel belt.
They pledged 940 million euros (766.0 million pounds) to resolve the immediate emergency, and said they plan to increase resilience to future crises.
EU Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said the meeting created the momentum to double aid commitments to deal with the current crisis.
In addition to food shortages, the Sahel faces increased security risks after a rebel takeover in northern Mali emboldened regional militants.
The European Commission pledged 40 million euros of additional humanitarian aid to the region, bringing the total from the 27-member bloc to 337 million euros, some of which would help provide food and shelter to 400,000 people displaced by the Mali conflict.
Regional forces have caused problems in transporting aid, as well as the strain refugees place on surrounding communities.
"That link between instability caused by mother nature and instability caused by man, this link makes our job as humanitarians bigger and more difficult," said Georgieva.
She said aid organisations still work in the midst of the conflict, but the plan to increase the region's resilience relies on local support.
"Famine is almost always manmade," said Nancy Lindborg of USAID, comparing the situation to the 2011 famine in Somalia.
Georgieva said the plan created by the group, AGIR Sahel (Alliance Globale pour l'Initiative Resilience) would continue to develop programming over the next seven years after aid is dispersed to deal with the current crisis.
"It is now or we miss the boat," she said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Ebbs; Editing by Diana Abdallah)