Food crisis: West Africa on the front lines


ON like the war in Ukraine bogged down, warnings are mounting about the risks of a food crisis. I’Africa West is on the front lines. Extreme droughts, the Covid-19 epidemic and now the war in Ukraine are “all exacerbating factors” the risk of famine in the Sahel and West Africa, warn international specialists who are holding a high-level meeting on the subject this Wednesday, April 6. A virtual meeting attended by the European Union, the Sahel and West Africa Club, and the Global Network Against Food Crises (RPCA) for the region, in which the head of European diplomacy will participate Joseph Borrell and two European commissioners.

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The figures are alarming: Hunger and malnutrition could affect 38.3 million people by June“If adequate measures are not taken,” warns the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in a press release, referring to a crisis of “exceptional magnitude”. And according to data published in March by the “Harmonized Framework”, a tool for identifying risk areas, 27 million people already suffer from malnutrition in the central Sahel region (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso) and Lake Chad, which also includes Cameroon and Nigeria. “Eleven million more people could go hungry in the next three months,” warn a dozen associations, including Oxfam, Action Against Hunger or Save the Children in a press release published this Tuesday, considering that it is the “worst situation in ten years”.

The objective of this meeting will be to “mobilize emergency food and nutritional aid”, while addressing the structural causes of these “multifaceted and recurring” crises, according to the FAO. Among them, “drought, floods, conflicts and the economic impacts of Covid-19 have forced millions of people to abandon their land,” explains Assalama Dawalack Sidi, regional director of the NGO Oxfam in West and Central Africa.

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A wave that penalizes the poorest

The war in Ukraine will further worsen the situation, causing “a drop in the availability of wheat for six West African countries that import at least 30% of this product, even more than 50% for some, of Russia or Ukraine”, predict the associations.

They are also concerned about a “brutal drop in international aid to Africa”, based on the example of Denmark, which in March reallocated 2,000 million crowns (about 269 million euros) destined for programs in the Sahel to finance the reception of Ukrainian refugees.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned on Tuesday of the great food crisis that is currently affecting Africa, but that “goes unnoticed” due to the war in Ukraine.

Beyond West Africa, this food crisis is affecting the entire continent, from drought-stricken Ethiopia and Somalia to Mauritania and Burkina Faso. Indeed, some 346 million people, or more than one in four Africans, suffer from “alarming” hunger and this number is likely to rise in the coming monthssaid the ICRC. The WFP warned last month that more than 70 percent of South Sudan’s population would face extreme hunger this year due to political instability and natural disasters. More than 6 million people in eastern and southern Ethiopia are in need of an ’emergency’ response this year to severe drought in the Horn of Africa, the UN government warned in January. In Burkina Faso, the number of people displaced by hunger has more than doubled in the last year. “This is a disaster that goes largely unnoticed. Millions of families are starving and children are dying of malnutrition,” ICRC director of global operations Dominik Stillhart told a news conference in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. According to him, the attention paid to the “terrible” situation of the Ukrainians “should not prevent the world from seeing other crises.” The organization wants to dedicate a billion euros this year to its humanitarian response in Africa, but it lacks about 800 million euros.

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States are far from sitting idly by: some have decided to increase subsidies, organize more regular food distributions to the poorest populations, while others take measures against speculation or prohibit exports. The objective: to contain at all costs the extremely high prices of food and energy raw materials. In Senegal, time is more than mobilization, especially in the context of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting for Muslims. “Considering the high risk of shortages and price increases due to the global crisis, I call for a general mobilization to further increase and improve our agricultural, livestock and fishery products”, summed up Macky Sall bluntly. The Senegalese president addressed the nation on the eve of 1962me anniversary of the country’s independence. Senegal is also affected by the rise in prices. Many food products have increased. Rice, the population’s staple food, is particularly affected. The Government has announced measures to try to curb this increase. “But to be protected from the vagaries of the international situation, we must show resilience by winning the battle for food sovereignty as quickly as possible. These are massive investments that the State continues to dedicate to the modernization and diversification of the livestock, fishing and agricultural sectors. Meeting the challenge of food self-sufficiency also means facilitating trade between production areas and markets. Senegal imports 57% of its wheat from Russia and the Ukraine and this creates significant difficulties, up to a 3% contraction in GDP, due to the necessary subsidies.

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