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West Africa food insecurity at worst level in 10 years

Alex Berry
April 5, 2022

Climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine have left millions in urgent need of food. A new report has warned 40 million may go hungry in West Africa if nothing is done.

Mohammed Abdul, a farmer in Nigeria, working on a rice farm
The number of people suffering from hunger in West Africa has increased dramatically in recent yearsImage: Chinedu Asadu/AP Photo/picture alliance

The ongoing food crisis has left 27 million people in West Africa in a state of hunger, a number that could increase by 11 million over the next few months, according to a report published on Monday by several non-governmental organizations.

The report stated that between 2007 and 2022, the number of people in need of food assistance in the West African region — including Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger — increased from 7 to 27 million.

It further warned that unless emergency action is taken, this figure could rise to 38 million by June, based on data from the Cadre Harmonise March 2022 report.

The 11 organizations behind the report called on the international community to provide the entire $4 billion (€3.65 billion) that the UN is seeking in an appeal for West Africa. The EU is set to join other stakeholders in the Food and Nutrition Crises in the Sahel and Lake Chad region conference on Wednesday.

Extreme weather, pandemic and conflict

The forecast number of people going hungry would mark a record high as global food security has taken a hit from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as other factors such as the worsening effects of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Cereal production in some parts of the Sahel has dropped by about a third compared to last year," said Assalama Dawalack Sidi, Oxfam's regional director for West and Central Africa. "Family food supplies are running out. Drought, floods, conflict, and the economic impacts of COVID-19 have forced millions of people off their land, pushing them to the brink."

Ukraine war disrupts global food security

According to Philippe Adapoe, Save the Children's director for West and Central Africa, the crisis has a cumulative effect as it forces "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."

The number of young children suffering from acute malnourishment has also gone up across the Sahel region, from 4.9 million in 2021 to 6.3 million in 2022, according to the UN.

Food insecurity: a global problem

Food prices in the region have increased by 20-30% in the past five years. The UN's Food and Agricultural Organization has said that food prices could increase globally by another 20% in the wake of the crisis in Ukraine.

For the six countries in West Africa that import at least 30% — for some at least 50% — of their wheat from Russia or Ukraine, the war presents a particular strain.

Several countries in the region have also been plagued by Islamist insurgencies that have fostered instability. For countries such as Mali and Burkina Faso, militaries have tried to use this as justification for overthrowing elected leaders.

To make things worse Tuesday's report warns that European donors may cut aid to the region to focus on Ukraine. Denmark has already said it will postpone parts of its assistance to Burkina Faso and Mali.

"There should be no competition between humanitarian crises," said Mamadou Diop, regional representative of Action Against Hunger. "The Sahel crisis is one of the worst humanitarian crises on a global scale 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."

Nigerian food insecurity