The United Nations estimates that more than 15 million people are facing food shortages and malnutrition due to a lingering drought. More than 200,000 children died of malnutrition last year and more than 1 million children are threatened.
"The United States is deeply concerned about the humanitarian emergency in the Sahel region of Africa," a statement attributed to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton read.
She said erratic rainfall, failed harvests and high food prices were exacerbated by conflict in Mali and other parts of western Africa. The U.S. government said it was providing $120 million in emergency assistance to "prevent a potentially much more serious situation" from developing.
UNICEF described the crisis as one emerging over the horizon.
"April to June is when this will really start to build up as a crisis," UNICEF West and Central Africa Regional Director David Gressly said in a statement. "So what we're doing now is being in a position to do so when it does happen."