A UN agency has said 31 million people in West and Central Africa may not have enough food to eat in the coming months, thanks to an “explosive mix” of rapidly increasing food prices, conflict and insecurity, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Even when food is available, families simply cannot afford it — and soaring prices are pushing a basic meal beyond the reach of millions of poor families who were already struggling to get by,” said Chris Nikoi, the World Food Programme’s Regional Director for West Africa.
The number of people at risk this year is 30% higher than last year and levels are among the highest in the past decade, according to a food security analysis released by the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS), a regional organization.
According to the report, some food staples are up nearly 40% over a five-year average. In other areas, prices have jumped by more than 200% while income has plummeted for many families, as sectors like trade and tourism have taken a hit due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“In West Africa, conflict is already driving hunger and misery. The relentless rise in prices acts as a misery multiplier, driving millions deeper into hunger and desperation,” said Nikoi. “Until markets stabilize, food assistance may be the only source of hope for millions of families. The needs are immense, and unless we can raise the funds we need we simply won’t be able to keep up.”
Furthermore, people in conflict areas and places with high levels of insecurity are especially at risk, according to the WFP.
Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, the Central African Republic, areas in northern Nigeria, and in the north west and south west regions of Cameroon are all affected by conflict and insecurity.
According to the WFP, nearly 10 million children under five years old are acutely malnourished across West Africa, and their numbers could rise significantly.
“We cannot let 2021 become the year of the ration cut," said Nikoi.
This escalating hunger is not limited to West and Central Africa either — across 79 countries, WFP estimated that up to 270 million people were acutely food insecure or at high risk at the outset of 2021.
In Yemen, South Sudan, and Burkina Faso, 155,000 people are already living in areas with famine or famine-like conditions.
Hundreds of aid organizations across the world have called on world leaders to take action immediately to stop multiple famines breaking out — whether caused by conflict, the climate crisis, and inequality, and exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
In an open letter published on April 20, aid groups warned that millions of people around the world were “being starved by conflict and violence; by inequality; by the impacts of climate change; by the loss of land, jobs or prospects; by a fight against COVID-19 that has left them even further behind.”
According to the UN Call for Action to Avert Famine in 2021, millions of dollars is needed to provide health care, clean water and other essential services while at least $5.5 billion is needed in food and agricultural assistance to avert famine.
The group said countries must address rising inequality and take the political actions needed to stop conflict, which is a main driver of hunger.