West Africa: Coronavirus - 43 Million West Africans Risk Food Insecurity - Report

In Niger, many young children are suffering the effects of malnutrition.

The World Food Programme (WFP) on Tuesday said over 40 million people across West Africa will face desperate food shortages in coming months.

According to a report on the United Nations (UN) website, the food shortages are coming with COVID-19 restrictions as a new factor adding to people's vulnerability.

The WFP spokesperson, Elisabeth Byers, in the report, said the new coronavirus risked exposing populations that had fled armed conflict and endured climate change emergencies.

The report estimated that 12 million children under five years old could be acutely malnourished in the lean season - from June to August - unlike 8.2 million in the same period last year.

It also highlighted that the alert follows a similar warning from the UN agency about a potentially massive spike in global food insecurity in East Africa, as a direct result of the pandemic.

For WFP, the priority continues to be the most vulnerable individuals.

"During the lean season in June and August, more than 21 million people across West Africa "will struggle to feed themselves," she explained, adding Gambia and Benin to the list of countries in need.

"An additional 20 million people could struggle to feed themselves due to the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 in the next six months, doubling the number of food-insecure to 43 million in this region," Ms Byers said highlighted in the report.

Conflict in African Countries

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Babar Baloch, in another report, described West and central Africa as "one of largest displacement situations in Africa... we are talking about 5.6 million internally displaced people, more than 1.3 million refugees and 1.6 million stateless.

"The UN refugee agency has repeatedly called for greater support for increasing numbers of people forced to flee for their lives amid renewed conflict in West Africa's turbulent Sahel and Lake Chad region."

This report said Burkina Faso had also witnessed massive displacement - of more than 838,000 people since January 2019, a figure which keeps climbing, each passing day.

In recent weeks, the agency said the armed groups had targeted thousands of Malian refugees sheltering in camps near the border of Burkina Faso and Mali.

The agency, on May 4, condemned attacks on May 2 on Malian refugees in Burkina Faso - "reportedly by the country's security forces," in Mentao refugee camp in which at least 32 people were injured.

"The camp is located in Burkina Faso's volatile Sahel region close to the border with Mali and hosts some 6,500 refugees," UNHCR said in a statement.

Feeding on daily proceeds

This category of people, "the urban poor - who live hand-to-mouth - (who) are most at risk," Ms Byers said.

She highlighted how COVID-19 travel restrictions have compromised the transport of supplies and the functioning of open-air markets that serve most people, resulting in price increases in some countries.

"Movement restrictions could also affect farmers as the planting season approaches, WFP said in a statement, warning that "an inadequate response" to current needs "would put the future well-being of millions of people in the region at stake, particularly women and young children."

While addressing the hand to mouth feeding, she said it could also lead to civil unrest in parts of a region already challenged by insecurity and violent extremism.

The agency said it was seeking to overcome (these) challenges, in partnership with the authorities.

School Meals

A significant problem highlighted by the report is the halt in school meal distribution.

This halt has affected 18 million pupils supported through government-led programmes and 2.2 million schoolchildren in WFP-supported schools.

"When Governments have had to close schools and stop school meals, we have worked with them," said Ms Byers.

"We are working with them, to organize distribution points for the most vulnerable families who can take food rations so that they aren't penalized, as schools have been forced to shut, in line with confinement measures."

She said the food agency has put in place monitoring and evaluation systems to help target the most at-risk populations.

Ms Byers said it is done in collaboration with other international partners and governments.

"WFP urgently requires an additional $574 million to provide crucial assistance for the next six months in West Africa. These requirements are likely to increase in the coming weeks as the impact of COVID-19 is fully analysed," the UN report said.

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