The UN humanitarian agencies are warning that 18 million people in Africa’s Sahel region face severe hunger in the next three months due to a combination of insecurity, the coronavirus pandemic, climate induced shocks and record-high food prices in the region. The situation has reached alarming levels in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger, where people are predicted to experience emergency levels of food insecurity during the lean season between June and August.
Speaking today at a regular briefing at the United Nations in Geneva, Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that “up to 18 million people in Africa’s Sahel region will face severe food insecurity over the next three months, the highest number since 2014, according to our projections”.
OCHA’s Jens Laerke also announced today that “to help people and meet their urgent food security and nutrition needs, we are releasing US$30 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund for those four countries. That includes $6 million for Burkina Faso and $8 million each for Chad, Mali and Niger.”
This injection of cash will help aid agencies on the ground to scale up the emergency response right away.
“In the Sahel, 7.7 million children under the age of 5 are expected to suffer from malnutrition”, said OCHA’s spokesperson. He added that “1.8 million are severely malnourished and if aid operations are not scaled up, this number could reach 2.4 million by the end of this year.”
For the World Food Programme (WFP) the immediate release of $30 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund for Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad and Niger is crucial for their operations in the Sahel region. Tomson Phiri, WFP’s spokesperson said that “needs are sky high, and resourcing was at rock bottom. This timely injection of funding from the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund is a welcome relief that will help us to step up. But, of course, additional resources will be required.”
Severe funding shortfalls has been causing cuts for food rations for refugees and displaced people of up to half in parts of the Sahel.
According to WFP’s spokesperson, “In Burkina Faso, we have had to cut rations and we are providing assistance at 75% in hard-to-reach and most food insecure areas”.
Rations have already been cut by half for displaced people and refugees in Chad, said WFP.
“If additional contributions are not received as indicated, we will have no choice but to reduce rations even further from July 2022, and mind you, these are people that have been displaced. These are displaced people and some of them are refugees”, said WFP’s Tomson Phiri.
The recent spike in food prices driven by the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is threatening to turn a food security crisis into a humanitarian disaster with those two countries being the key producers of wheat, barley and other agricultural products.
“Why is this situation as bad now? You will realize that we have conflict in the West African regions, you have COVID - it's still raging out there. You have climate induced shocks, and you have rising costs, which are all colliding to put basic meals out of reach for millions of people. The situation is definitely going to worsen before it gets better, particularly as we head towards the annual lean season, which sets in from June to September.”
Earlier this year, OCHA has launched a total of $3.8 billion appeal to provide aid in 2022 for the Sahel region which is currently less than 12 % funded.