UN urges for action in West, Central Africa Facing Record Hunger

DAKAR – Three UN agencies say the number of people unable to meet their basic food in West and Central Africa could reach an all-time high of 48 million people next year if urgent and long-lasting solutions to address the crisis are not delivered soon.

Over 35 million people – including 6.7 million children – in the region are currently unable to meet their basic food and nutrition needs, according to the latest Cadre Harmonisé food security analysis.

The situation is particularly worrying in conflict-affected areas of the Lake Chad Basin and the Liptako-Gourma region of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, where 25,500 people will experience catastrophic hunger (phase 5) during the June-August 2023 lean season.

This is the period of the year when food stocks from the previous harvest are exhausted, and families struggle to meet their basic food needs until the next harvest.

“Extremely worrying”

In a joint statement today, three United Nations agencies – FAO, UNICEF, and WFP – urge governments across the region to increase support and investments in food security and nutrition programs that reinforce the resilience of communities, and protect their livelihoods while reducing the risk of people falling into catastrophic food insecurity.

The agencies made the urgent call for action at the annual meeting of the Network for the Prevention of Food Crisis in West Africa in Togo’s capital Lomé on Thursday.

“The food and nutrition security outlook for 2023 is extremely worrying and this should be the last wake-up call for governments of the region and their partners,” said Chris Nikoi, WFP’s Regional Director for Western Africa Region.

“Strengthening the resilience of communities has to become a singular and collective focus for us all if we are to pull this situation back from the precipice before it is too late,” Nikoi added.

The trio said food insecurity and malnutrition persist Despite the good harvest prospects, improved market situation, and increased cereal production estimates across the region.

“We must act now”

The challenges are spreading from the Sahel toward coastal countries due to persistent insecurity, climate shocks, high food prices, the economic fallout from COVID-19, and the impact of the conflict in Ukraine.

Across Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Togo, the Cadre Harmonisé analysis reveals a 20 percent increase in food insecurity in the last quarter of 2022, compared to the same period last year.

In Nigeria alone, 25 million women, men and children are facing moderate or worse food insecurity, meaning they can easily fall into an emergency food security situation if no immediate response is provided.

“The Sahel is teetering on the brink of full-blown catastrophe; we are seeing food availability decline in most countries, and fertilizer prices are on the rise,” said Robert Guei, FAO’s Sub-regional Coordinator for West Africa.

“This could have a negative impact on harvests next year and worsen an already-grave situation for many rural communities,” said Guei. “We must act now to shore-up rural livelihoods before it is too late.”

Despite efforts by governments and their partners, acute malnutrition in children under 5 is of concern, particularly in Sahel countries and in Nigeria – with rates exceeding the 15% emergency threshold in some areas in Sénégal’s Louga and Matam, Mauritania’s Gorgol and Guidimakha, Nigeria’s Yobe and Borno states, and Niger’s Dogon and Doutchi regions.

‘Child malnutrition needs Focus’

The global acute malnutrition rate also exceeds 10% in many areas around the Lake Chad Basin as well as the border areas.

Conflict, population displacement, limited access to basic social services, including health care, education, water, hygiene, and sanitation, and unaffordable nutritious diets are among the underlying causes of acute malnutrition in children under 5, pregnant women and nursing mothers across the region.

“The latest data indicates continuing unacceptably high levels of severe wasting for children in many countries in West and Central Africa, leaving a devastating impact on the region’s future,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

“We need to scale up treatment and put much more attention on preventing child malnutrition through a multi-sectoral approach to reach every child,” Poirier added.

The three UN agencies and their partners also said they are committed to addressing this unprecedented food and nutrition crisis through a robust food systems approach.