Geneva - The World Food Program warns conflict, climate change, COVID-19, and skyrocketing prices of food, fuel, and fertilizer are further threatening stability and development prospects in Africa's Sahel region.
WFP warns a wave of hunger and suffering is sweeping across part of the Sahel, driving people to the brink of desperation and upending years of development gains.
The agency reports 12.7 million people are acutely hungry, including 1.4 million on the verge of starvation. It says 6 million children are acutely malnourished, making them vulnerable to disease and even death if they do not receive treatment for their condition.
Alexandre Le Cuziat is WFP senior emergency preparedness and response adviser for West Africa. Speaking from Dakar in Senegal, he warns the number of people suffering from acute hunger and the number of malnourished children is likely to rise during the current lean season when food stocks are at their lowest.
"What we see is that acute hunger is driven primarily by conflict that will continue to trigger massive population displacements and the violence is often preventing people from accessing markets, fields, or humanitarian assistance. The region also bears the consequences of a climatic shock with very, very poor rains in 2021, one of the worst in the last 40 years," he said.
Le Cuziat says the conflict in Ukraine has driven up food and energy prices. He adds it also has led to shortages of fertilizer needed for the planting season, which is now over.
He notes less than half of the region's fertilizer needs have been met. This, he says, could result in a 20% drop in agricultural production in the region this year, further increasing the levels of hunger.
He says needs in the region are at record highs at a time when resources to respond to emergencies are dwindling. He says a lack of money is forcing WFP to reduce the number of people receiving assistance and to cut rations for the remaining beneficiaries.
"Even before the conflict in Ukraine drove up the global prices of food, fuel, and fertilizer, we were forced to cut rations by up to 50% in all of the Sahelian countries, as well as Nigeria, CAR. And our emergency nutrition programs are also underfunded, which combined to the cuts I was mentioning on our operations is going to put a lot of stress on what little resources the poorest families have left," he said.
Le Cuziat says WFP requires $329 million in the next six months for its life saving operation and to prevent the Sahel from becoming, what he calls, an all-out humanitarian catastrophe.