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Already the signs of damage are there.

Aliou’s 3-year-old sister Fatimata and 8-year-old sister Kadja have orangish hair growing in at the roots — a telltale sign of the protein deficiency that comes from eating just one bowl of porridge a day. The girls are neatly dressed, but their clavicles poke through their tops like hangers.

Haby, their 4-year-old sister, has streaks of orangish-blonde hair that frame her face, almost as blond as the Cinderella cartoon character printed on her dusty T-shirt. Her mother worriedly smooths down the wisps around her braids. She does not know the culprit is lack of protein; she wonders if it’s something in the water.

The U.N. World Food Program serves lunch at school, but the Diallo sisters don’t go. Their parents can’t afford the school supplies.

It’s noon in Goudoude Diobe, where women traditionally spend hours stewing the midday meal. But there is no smell of cooking vegetables or spices, no clanging of multiple pots — only the sound of roosters crowing and children crying.

Down a dusty trail, Samba Bayla’s sister-in-law is starting to cook the only meal of the day for a family of 10, usually eaten at about 2 p.m. She displays a small bowl of uncooked millet and another bowl with just a few small dried fish that altogether would fit inside a pair of clasped hands.

The knobby-kneed children crowd inside a building where the water is boiling, despite the scalding heat and heavy smoke. The midday temperatures here soar to 109, and it’s been a month since the restless children last ate meat, at a neighbor’s wedding.

“The situation is difficult but there is nothing we can do,” Mr. Bayla says. “We tell them just a few hours more.”

It’s not supposed to be this way in Senegal, a country of more than 12 million people where sushi bars dot the seaside capital. Still, most Senegalese live in rural areas, their lives and livelihoods beholden to the right recipe of rain.

Not enough of anything

Here in the northeast region of Matam, the drought couldn’t have come at a worse time.

The country already is battling high food prices. And because of the global economic downturn, fewer Senegalese in this region have family members working abroad and sending money back home.

When the rains came late this year, they were sporadic at best. Crops failed, and the extra food stored for emergencies has been eaten. The next planting season is still months away.

Mr. Bayla grew millet and sorghum, while his wife sometimes made $2 selling incense. But grain production was down 36 percent over last year across Senegal. And those who want to buy millet after their own crops failed are paying 27 percent more compared to 2011.

“You are faced basically with households that have less of a harvest compared to what they usually have, and they are facing higher prices on the market,” said Ingeborg Maria Breuer, Senegal’s representative and country director for the U.N. World Food Program.

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