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Food insecurity and malnutrition reach new highs in West and Central Africa as funding to address acute needs dwindles

Despite considerable efforts by governments and partners, food insecurity continues to worsen in West and Central Africa with the number of hungry people set to reach a staggering 49.5 million people between June and August 2024 – a four percent increase compared to 2023, according to a regional food security analysis released today.

The trend is particularly worrying in coastal countries, where the number of women, men, and children facing acute hunger (IPC/CH phases 3 or higher) is expected to reach 6.2 million during the June-August 2024 hunger gap - a 16 percent increase on last year. The November 2023Cadre Harmoniséanalysis projects cereal and tuber production throughout the region to be slightly above both last year's levels and the 5-year average due to improved rains in 2023.

Acute hunger in West and Central Africa is mainly driven by conflict - which has forcibly displaced millions of people from their homes and farms, the impact of the climate crisis, and high food and fuel prices. The prices of main foods remain well above the five-year average, particularly rice, corn, millet, sorghum, cassava and vegetable oil, despite seasonal declines in the prices of local commodities compared to last year.

"Acute hunger remains at record levels in the region, yet funding needed to respond is not keeping a pace; this is forcing WFP to scale back lifesaving assistance for those most affected in their hour of greatest need" said Margot Vandervelden, WFP's Acting Regional Director for Western Africa. "Insufficient funding means the moderately hungry will be forced to skip meals and consume less nutritious food, putting them at risk of falling back into crisis or emergency phases, perpetuating the cycle of hunger and malnutrition. We need to break this circle by tackling the root causes of hunger and by building the resilience of families in West Africa."

The nutritional situation remains worrying, particularly in the Sahel, where emergency levels of child wasting were reached and surpassed in several countries this year, notably in parts of Mali, north-west Nigeria and Burkina Faso. This was due to fragile food systems which do not deliver the specific nutritional needs of women and children; limited access to basic social services; and poor care and hygiene practices.

More than 2 out of 3 households in West and Central Africa cannot afford healthy diets. And 8 out of 10 children aged 6-23 months do not consume the minimum number of food groups they need for optimal growth and development. In the year up to the end of October 2023, 1.9 million children under five years were admitted for treatment of severe wasting across nine Sahel countries, representing a 20 percent increase as compared to the same period in 2022.

"Children in West and Central Africa have a right to nutritious, safe, affordable and sustainable diets," said UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Felicité Tchibindat. "We invest to prevent child malnutrition happening in the first place, but we also need funding to keep supporting government services for the early detection, treatment, and care of malnourished children to help them survive, recover, and go on to live healthy and productive lives with dignity."

The cost of a daily nutritious diet in central Sahel (Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger) is 110 percent higher than the daily minimum wage in the region, and more and more households rely on local markets to provide their food, even in rural areas, according to the 2023 Food security and Nutrition report. For comparison, the cost of healthy diet in Africa is as high as in the USA, despite the latter GDP being more than 35 times that in the Africa region.

To address the spiralling food insecurity and malnutrition, FAO, UNICEF and WFP call on national government and financial partners to prioritize programmes that strengthen climate resilient food systems and livelihoods and invest in social protection systems, and improve natural resource management, including water, as an accelerator of resilience and development.

Participants in the Cadre Harmonisé food security analysis also recommended timely development and implementation of emergency programmes that address immediate food and nutritional needs of populations experiencing crisis and emergency levels of food insecurity and malnutrition (IPC/CH phases 3 to 5). This will not only save lives, but also prevent the risk of malnutrition among children in areas most affected by insecurity and economic crises including in Burkina Faso, Chad, DRC, Mali, Nigeria and Niger.

"With the persistence of food and nutritional insecurity, we must act urgently to save millions of lives by advocating for the acceleration of resource mobilization to finance national response plans and facilitate access to areas facing insecurity or difficult to access, particularly in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria", said FAO Sub-Regional Coordinator for West Africa and the Sahel, Dr. Robert Guei.

The Cadre Harmonisé analysis also showed an estimated 94 million people in West and Central Africa under food security "Stress" (IPC/CH phase 2) between October and December 2023. Left without support, these communities are at risk of shifting to "crisis" and "emergency" (IPC/CH phases 3 and 4) levels of hunger tomorrow.


Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Food Programme (WFP).
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