A January 2020 food security analysis conducted by three United Nations agencies has revealed that, despite “satisfactory” agricultural production, over 3.3 million people in the Central Sahel require immediate food assistance. It is feared that the situation may deteriorate and the agencies estimate that the number could rise to approximately 4.8 million this summer, if appropriate action is not taken urgently.
Experts from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) are most concerned about the Central Sahel countries of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. The root of the concern is the insecurity caused by conflict. In Burkina Faso, the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) is six times greater than January 2019, going from 90,000 to 560,033 in December 2019.
The three countries are experiencing a rise in the number of security incidents, including attacks by armed groups and community conflicts that frequently lead to population movements.
“We are seeing a staggering rise in hunger in the central Sahel. The number of food insecure people has doubled after harvest time, when it should have dropped. Unless we act now, a whole generation are at risk,” said Chris Nikoi, Regional Director for WFP in West and Central Africa. "Climate change is disrupting already fragile livelihoods...This situation is exacerbated by armed and community conflicts, theft, and banditry, which disrupt the mobility of animal herds, access to fodder and water resources. It also leads to a concentration of animals in some more secure areas, with the risk of aggravating farmer-pastoralist conflicts".
The rise in vulnerable populations, the increase in insecurity and the incidence of conflict over limited resources is disrupting communities and is leading to a longer-term crisis in the Sahel. The agencies are calling for immediate assistance to respond to urgent needs but are also seeking substantial investments in rural livelihoods and social services.
“Unless we address these crises from their roots, millions of vulnerable pastoralists and agro-pastoralists will continue requiring urgent assistance each year, as it was in 2019 and as it will be in 2020,” said Robert Guei, FAO Sub-regional Coordinator for West Africa, adding that the Global Network against Food Crises provides framework for that support.
The report also addresses the needs of mothers and children and the longer-range effect this has.
In cities in northern Burkina Faso, rapid nutrition assessments conducted in municipalities with high numbers of internally displaced people show a sharp deterioration of the nutritional status among children under five. (UNICEF)
Household food insecurity, compounded by population displacement, limited access to health services and safe drinking water, as well as poor knowledge on optimal child feeding practices will have a serious impact on the nutritional status of young children, and on the capacities of communities to bounce back, if nothing is done now to protect the nutritional status of young children and prevent life-threatening acute malnutrition. Integrated approaches for the prevention and care of acute malnutrition must be implemented at scale immediately in the most affected areas.
The agencies estimate that as many as 14.4 million people are at risk of food insecurity in 2020.