More than 10 million people in West Africa's Sahel region experienced major food shortages in 2010 after drought destroyed crops and cattle. A massive aid operation prevented all-out famine, but many families lost their livelihoods and hunger levels remain high, especially in Chad.
In some areas, harvests were completely wiped out and there was no food available to buy. In other areas many could not afford the food in local markets.
The worst-affected countries were: Niger, Chad, eastern Mali, Cameroon, Burkina Faso and the extreme north of Nigeria. The worst-hit country - Niger - is also the poorest.
However, Niger recovered faster than Chad, where 2 million people needed help at the height of the crisis. Up to a quarter of children in some areas still faced acute hunger in September 2010, according to the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF).
Many poor families lost their livelihoods and were far more vulnerable than they had been before the crisis, aid agencies said. Without external help, they would struggle to survive 2011's 'lean season' - the annual period between harvests when food stocks run low.
Niger, Chad and northern Nigeria all experience high chronic hunger levels and, with climate change and the advance of the desert, they are likely to face food crises every two years, says Cyprien Fabre, head of the European Commission's humanitarian aid arm (ECHO) in West Africa.
The region's last major food crisis was in 2005, when a massive international aid operation was launched amid estimates that some 8 million people in Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso were facing catastrophic food shortages, caused in part by poor rains in 2004 combined with a plague of locusts.
Some 7.1 million people, or nearly half the population, experienced food shortages in 2010. Of those, 3.3 million faced severe shortages.
Some families were surviving on wild leaves, having lost their crops and pasture to drought. Many farmers were forced to sell their cattle or use their cereal stocks to feed their animals. Many livestock died of hunger.
The rate of child malnutrition rose beyond emergency levels. Global acute malnutrition in children under five reached 17 percent in May, up from 12 percent in 2009, WFP said.
In July 2010, World Food Programme (WFP) chief Josette Sheeran warned the situation in Niger was deteriorating faster than expected and said the crisis could cost the lives of a generation. WFP appealed for an extra $100 million to reach an additional 2 million people, on top of the 2.3 million it was already helping.
The same month, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) more than tripled its appeal for funds to help Niger's hungry to $3.3 million from the $1 million it requested in March.
Some aid agencies said the situation had become so urgent they decided to give out cash rather than food.
Floods in August and September 2010 made life even harder for some 200,000 survivors of the food crisis. About 100,000 cattle died and farmland was damaged.
HOW WAS CATASTROPHE AVERTED IN 2010?
Donors were criticised for not responding to early warnings quickly enough.
Aid agencies said that bringing food to landlocked countries with hardly any infrastructure can take up to five months. A key factor in averting famine was that they used both cash and food aid. Cash is faster to distribute but, in areas without food, it could not fill the gap.
WFP said its new advanced funding mechanisms meant the agency did not have to wait for donor money to come through before buying food aid. Without this, WFP would have been unable to buy and deliver the food in time, the agency said.
In Niger, food shortages were worse in 2010 than in 2005, but the country was better prepared to deal with the emergency than last time when then President Mamadou Tandja played down the scale of the problem.
Aid agencies had good early warning systems in place, more people on the ground and were better organised than in 2005. As a result, they knew as early as October 2009 there was a threat of a major food crisis when erratic rainfall ruined crops in many parts of the country, and they were able to respond relatively quickly.
But the story was different for Chad. Most aid agencies are based in the east and south where they help refugees and internally displaced people, and they were unable to quickly switch focus and move to the west and centre of the country where the food crisis was developing.