Record-High Number of Africans Face Severe Food Insecurity, Including Famine
A record-high number of Africans are facing severe food insecurity this year, with up to 83 million people in East and Southern Africa experiencing acute food insecurity, including famine. The increase in the number of people facing food insecurity is being driven by coastal nations including Togo and Benin, which have requested food assistance for the first time, while millions of people in Ghana and Ivory Coast are also facing hunger. The situation is becoming alarming in West and Central Africa, with more than 41 million people at risk during the lean season this year. The combined effects of conflict, climate shocks, COVID-19, and high food prices continue to drive up hunger and malnutrition in the region, with the number of people lacking regular access to safe and nutritious food projected to rise to 48 million during the June-August 2023 lean season.
In a first for the Sahel region, it is predicted that around 45,000 individuals will suffer from catastrophic levels of hunger (phase 5), which is just one step away from a famine. This includes 42,000 people in Burkina and 2,500 in Mali. The spiralling food security and nutrition situation in Western Africa is just heart-breaking, said Chris Nikoi, Regional Director for the World Food Programme (WFP). 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.
The already grim nutritional situation for communities across the region is also on the slide, with 16.5 million children under five set to face acute malnutrition in 2023, including 4.8 million children set to suffer from the debilitating severe form (SAM). The global acute malnutrition (GAM) has increased by 83 percent as compared to the average from 2015-2022. The escalating situation is being further compounded by the fact that a diversified, nutritious and healthy diet is beyond the reach of many, particularly young children and women. This, coupled with conflicts and population displacement, has exasperated the situation, resulting in diminished access to critical social services such as health, nutrition, WASH, and social protection, and adversely impacting care practices.
Access to food, as well as availability, remains a major concern despite improved rainfall last year. Despite facing significant fiscal constraints and macroeconomic challenges, countries in the region are experiencing a rise in their food import bills due to currency depreciation and high inflation. This is further compounded by their continued reliance on net imports. In addition, there are worries that limitations on transhumance movement and dense livestock populations in certain regions may cause a decline in pastoral and security situations.
The United Nations food agency, the World Food Programme (WFP), estimates its figures as many as 48 million people across western and central Africa as efforts to contain inflation contribute to food shortages. Moody's Investors Service warns that Sub-Saharan Africa is facing the risk of worsening its critical debt problems due to the impact of food insecurity shocks. This comes at a time when the region is obligated to repay unprecedented levels of debt from 2021 to 2025. “Food insecurity shocks will be a recurrent source of credit risk,” Mickaël Gondrand, an analyst at Moody’s Investors Service, said in a note to clients. “Our analysis finds Mozambique, Rwanda, Zambia, and Ethiopia among the most exposed and vulnerable countries.”
WFP alongside the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, have renewed their call for greater support to Governments in the region. This includes building food, health, water, sanitation and hygiene systems, and nutrition-sensitive social protection programs that target vulnerable groups such as women and young children. Partnerships need to be enhanced to prevent and treat acute malnutrition among children and promote climate-smart programs that help to reduce the region's high vulnerability to climate shocks, and the risk of natural resource depletion.
The ongoing decline in the food and nutrition state is deemed to be intolerable by Robert Guei, who is the Sub-regional Coordinator for West Africa at FAO. “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 Guei. “This trend will probably continue to worsen the food and nutrition situation, and therefore we must address the root causes of this crisis in a concerted manner and immediately. It is time for action to boost agricultural production to achieve food sovereignty in our region.”
In conclusion, the region is facing a grave humanitarian crisis, and the situation is expected to worsen over time. The international community must take urgent action to address the root causes of the crisis and provide support to affected communities. Building resilient food systems, investing in agriculture, and promoting climate-smart programs are some of the measures that can help to address the crisis in the long term. In the short term, humanitarian organizations must provide food assistance to affected communities to prevent a full-blown famine.
0. “Hunger Stalks 48 Million People in West Africa Amid Supply Curbs” Bloomberg, 18 Apr. 2023, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-04-18/hunger-stalks-48-million-people-in-west-africa-amid-supply-curbs
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