AFRICA – A new study has revealed that acute food insecurity in West and Central Africa is on pace to reach a 10-year high by June of this year. 

Worryingly, the problem is spreading to coastal nations, and in Burkina Faso and Mali, where insecurity has a catastrophic impact on humanitarian aid, the hunger crisis has reached catastrophic levels.

For the first time in the history of the Sahel, 45,000 people, including 42,000 in Burkina Faso and 2,500 in Mali, are expected to endure catastrophic (phase 5) levels of hunger, which is the last stage before famine.

To this end, FAO, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and the World Food Programme (WFP) have reiterated their appeal to the private sector, development, and humanitarian partners to assist national governments in enhancing food security and nutrition in the region.

This includes creating systems for food, health, water, sanitation, and hygiene as well as social protection programs that focus on nutrition and vulnerable populations including mothers and small children.

In order to prevent and cure childhood acute malnutrition and to promote climate-smart programs that serve to lower the region’s high sensitivity to climate shocks and the risk of resource depletion, partnerships must be strengthened, voices FAO.

“The food and nutrition crisis has a multi-sectoral impact on the living conditions of affected populations in the region, in areas already experiencing humanitarian crises, and in all West and Central African countries. 

“This requires the collective deployment of multisectoral approaches based on the needs expressed by the population putting West and Central Africa people at the center,” said Charles Bernimolin – Head of OCHA regional office for West and Central Africa.

According to the March 2023 Cadre Harmonisé food security analysis, 48 million people will not have regular access to safe and nutritious food during the June–August 2023 lean season, a fourfold increase in the last five years.

This is due to the combined effects of conflict, climate shocks, COVID-19, and high food prices. The findings also support a longer-term pattern of food insecurity spreading geographically throughout the area.

“The spiralling food security and nutrition situation in Western Africa is just heart-breaking. There is a crucial need for massive investment in strengthening the capacities of communities and individuals to withstand shocks while prioritizing local and long-term solutions to food production, transformation, and access for vulnerable groups,” he added.

With 16.5 million children under 5 expected to experience acute malnutrition in 2023, including 4.8 million children expected to experience the crippling severe form (SAM), the already dire nutritional situation for communities around the region is also deteriorating.

Global acute malnutrition (GAM) has increased by 83% during 2015–2022 on average. One of the main causes of the situation’s deterioration, in addition to the cost of a varied, nutritious, and healthy diet (especially for young children and women), is conflict and population displacement, which restrict access to vital social services (health, nutrition, WASH, and social protection) and have a negative impact on caregiving techniques.

Security incidents in the area grew by 79% between 2019 and 2023, displacing a significant amount of people and obstructing access to farmland and fodder.

“Growing insecurity and conflict mean vulnerability is increasing in the region, and it is getting harder to help communities in isolated areas. 

“We are supporting governments to strengthen health systems at the facility and community level to successfully detect and treat malnutrition while putting the focus on prevention,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

The availability and accessibility of food remain a serious challenge despite increased rains in 2022.

The region is still largely dependent on imports, and even as governments face severe fiscal limitations and macroeconomic difficulties, rising inflation and currency devaluation are driving up the cost of imported food throughout the region.

Furthermore, there are worries that the restrictions on transhumance migration and the dense populations of animals in particular places may worsen the pastoral and security situation.

“The continued deterioration of the food and nutrition situation in West Africa and the Sahel is unacceptable; despite the increase of cereal production, access to food for most of the population remains challenging due to the disrupted functioning of markets because of civil insecurity and high food prices,” said Robert Guei, FAO’s Sub-regional Coordinator for West Africa.

He highlighted that unless the root cause of the crisis is urgently addressed in a concerted manner, the trend will probably continue to worsen the food and nutrition situation.

“It is time for action to boost agricultural production to achieve food sovereignty in our region,” Guei said.

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