A total of 27 million people across West Africa are going hungry in the sub-region which is currently facing its worst food crisis in a decade.
This number could rise to 38 million this June – a new historic level and already an increase by more than a third over last year- unless urgent action is taken, 11 humanitarian organisations said in a statement on Tuesday, April 5.
The alert was in response to new analyses of the March 2022 Cadre Harmonisé (CH), ahead of the virtual conference on the food and nutrition crisis in the Sahel and Lake Chad organized by the European Union and the Sahel and West Africa Club.
“Between 2015 and 2022, the number of people in need of emergency food assistance nearly quadrupled, from 7 to 27 million. This number could rise to 38 million this June, unless urgent action is taken,” the organisations said.
“Over the past decade, far from abating, food crises have been increasing across the West African region, including in Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Mali, and Nigeria.”
According to Assalama Dawalack Sidi, Oxfam’s regional director for West and Central Africa, cereal production in some parts of the Sahel has dropped by about a third compared to 2021 as family food supplies are running out.
The situation is compounded by the impacts of drought, floods, conflict, and COVID-19 fallouts, forcing millions of people off their land and pushing them to the brink.
On his part, Philippe Adapoe, Save the Children’s director for West and Central Africa, said the situation is forcing hundreds of thousands of people to move to different communities and to live with host families who are already living in difficult conditions themselves.
“There is not enough food, let alone food that is nutritious enough for children. We must help them urgently because their health, their future and even their lives are at risk,” Adapoe.
In Abuja, Nigeria’s Capital, the pangs of hunger are sobering, especially for children in downtown communities. In Lugbe, one of such communities, 13-year-old Fatima, looked sullen, unsure of how to approach people for help. It was almost sunset on the first day of Ramadan, Muslim holy month, a time to share food together with the less privileged. What is traditionally a jovial celebration of the start of the Muslim holy month around a hearty meal was muted and dispirited for Fatima’s family that had to contend with no food.
“It’s time to break my fast and we don’t have anything to eat,” said Fatima when approached by a HumAngle reporter. Her mother was away on a hunt for food; her father, a herder, was also nowhere to be found.
Fatima explained how her father’s business had suffered losses due to lack of sufficient rain to help grazing easy for his herds of cattle and the country’s economic meltdown with rising food prices exacerbated the situation.
“Even before Ramadan, we hardly had enough to eat at home,” said Fatima, who added that the recent fuel shortage in the capital city had caused her mother to abandon her pepper-grinding business for a low-paying job as a cleaner.
At 4, Aisha, Fatima’s sister, looked a little smaller than some toddlers, with her emaciated body frame, an evident sign of stunted growth.
The United Nations estimated that 6.3 million children aged 6-59 months will be acutely malnourished this year – including more than 1.4 million children in the severe acute malnutrition phase – compared to 4.9 million acutely malnourished children in 2021.
In Burkina Faso, Safiatou, quoted by aid organisations, said fleeing violence in her village came with starvation and hardship for herself and her child, adding that feeding was never easy.
“I had almost no milk left so I gave my baby other food. He often refused to take it and lost weight. In addition he had diarrhea, which worsened his condition,” said Safiatou.
In addition to conflict and insecurity, pockets of drought and poor rainfall distribution have reduced communities’ food sources, especially in the Central Sahel. To make up for the gap, many families are selling their assets, jeopardising their productive capacity and the future of their children.
Young girls may be forced into early marriage and other forms of gender-based violence may increase as food becomes scarcer.
With the ongoing war in Ukraine, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) predicted that food prices will rise to 20 per cent worldwide despite the ravaging conflict, insecurity, and droughts that have reduced farming and productivity in their community.
The war in Ukraine has also been spotlighted as one of the causes of hunger as international aid to Africa has witnessed a drop in distribution of humanitarian aid.
“Many donors have indicated that they may make cuts in their funding in Africa,” the statement revealed.
Mamadou Diop, regional representative of Action Against Hunger, said the Sahel crisis is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the globe and, at the same time, one of the least funded.
“We fear that by redirecting humanitarian budgets to the Ukrainian crisis, we risk dangerously aggravating one crisis to respond to another,” Diop said.
The humanitarian organisations urged governments and donors not to repeat the failures of 2021, when only 48 percent of the humanitarian response plan in West Africa was funded.
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