DAKAR, Senegal — Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrived in Africa bearing gifts, offering $20 million over three years to help relieve hunger in the Sahel region.
"Across the Sahel region of Africa there are many problems, including millions of men women and children who are suffering because they do not have enough to eat," Harper told UN officials here.
Seated in a boardroom in the UN's expansive offices in Dakar, officials updated Harper on the situation in the Sahel — a region that stretches from Senegal in the west to Chad in the east — where 18 million people face hunger.
But not even a better harvest will solve the region's food problems.
"Even in the good years, some 230,000 children die annually of malnutrition or health-related consequences," UN humanitarian aid co-ordinator Noel Tsekouras said.
The briefing also touched on security problems, with officials saying organized crime is just as destabilizing for the region as Islamist terror networks operating in Mali.
Harper remained silent on the issue, but Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird spoke about it while meeting his counterpart in Paris.
"We must not allow the same problems that the world allowed to happen in Afghanistan show their face in the Sahel region in Mali," he said Thursday.
Meanwhile, Harper hosted a business roundtable with Canadian companies, including mining outfits Iamgold and Teranga Gold, and visited a vocational school that will receive $5 million from Canada.
He also has extensive meetings with Senegal's president that will continue into Friday before jetting off to the Francophonie summit in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.