UN says 18 million people in Sahel region face severe hunger

Agencies face funding pressure as global crises create food shortages and raise prices

A girl carries firewood at a camp for internally displaced people in Kaya, Burkina Faso - one of four Sahel countries expected to face extreme levels of food insecurity in coming months. Reuters
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Millions of refugees and displaced people in Africa's Sahel region face severe hunger as food rations are being cut by up to half in some areas because of a funding shortfall, UN agencies said on Friday.

The hunger crisis is the worst since 2014 and is the result of factors ranging from the war in Ukraine to climate change and regional conflicts, officials said.

The Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) estimates that about 18 million people face severe food insecurity in the next three months across the Sahel — the arid belt that stretches across Africa immediately south of the Sahara.

Ocha spokesman Jens Laerke said the agency's $3.8 billion appeal for the region was less than 12 per cent funded.

The situation has reached alarming levels in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger, where nearly 1.7 million people will experience emergency levels of food insecurity during the lean season between June and August, he said in Geneva.

Tomson Phiri, spokesman for the UN’s World Food Programme, said parts of the Sahel have had their worst harvests in more than a decade, and food shortages could worsen as the lean season arrives in late summer.

In Burkina Faso, rations are currently at 75 per cent in areas that are hard to reach and the most food insecure, and 50 per cent at other sites, the WFP said.

The WFP said rations, already been cut by half for displaced people and refugees in Chad, would be reduced further from July if more funding is not received.

The situation is definitely going to get worse before it gets better
Tomson Phiri, World Food Programme spokesman

In Mauritania, the food component of the food-cash ration is being cut by 50 per cent at Mbera camp, it said.

"Why is it as bad now? We have conflict in the West African region, you have Covid still raging, you have climate-induced shocks, you have rising costs which are all colliding to put basic needs out of reach for millions of people," Mr Phiri said.

“The situation is definitely going to get worse before it gets better,” he said. “We may see more people trying to make ends meet by migrating. It’s a very, very likely possibility.”

Many people from the region are among migrants who travel north to Europe in hopes of economic opportunity, more stability and safety.

“A combination of violence, insecurity, deep poverty and record-high food prices is exacerbating malnutrition and driving millions to the fringes of survival,” said Martin Griffiths, the head of Ocha.

“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,” he said.

The two countries are key producers of wheat, barley and other agricultural products, and the conflict has almost entirely halted exports through the Black Sea.

Mr Griffiths’ office is releasing $30m from its emergency relief fund for the four African countries.

With reporting from agencies.

Updated: May 20, 2022, 1:33 PM