Humanitarian Regional News

Hunger hotspots: Starvation could become a reality for millions in Nigeria and other Sahel countries  

Parts of Nigeria are likely to become “hunger hotspots” this year because of acute food insecurity that is likely to deteriorate further during the outlook period of February to May.

This is according to a report issued on Wednesday, January 26, by the Food and Agriculture Organsation of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

“Hunger hotspots” are areas in which conflict, economic shocks, natural hazards, political instability and limited access to humanitarian assistance put millions of lives at risk. In these areas, parts of the population were likely to face a significant deterioration of acute food insecurity in the coming months that would put their lives and livelihoods at risk.

The report said Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen remained the countries of greatest concern.

Recent assessments had found that these countries required the most urgent attention because they had areas where people were experiencing or were at risk of experiencing famine and death.

The report said the links between hunger and conflict were complex and far-reaching and many of the people whom the WFP supported had fled conflict, forcing them to abandon their lands, homes and jobs, which only made them more vulnerable to food insecurity.

Organised violence or conflict remained the primary drivers of acute food insecurity, followed by weather extremes and climate variability.

The COVID-19 pandemic was continuing to disrupt economies. High food prices and low household purchasing power were major economic concerns for the rise in food insecurity, the report said.

In the Sahel region high food prices, conflict and displacement had driven millions of people into acute hunger and malnutrition.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said the nutrition crisis was continuing, exacerbated by climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The agency said it was responding to both the immediate and long-term needs of vulnerable children and families in the Sahel by delivering Ready-to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF), a lifesaving treatment for children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, and providing safe water to improve hygiene and protect against waterborne diseases and COVID-19.

“Malnutrition silently stalks children across the Sahel,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF’s regional director for West and Central Africa. “We have been able to deliver the supplies and medicines these children need to survive but, equally important, are investments in preventive measures and early detection to stop children from getting sick in the first place.”

The WFP said increased armed conflict, deteriorating security, widespread poverty and the impact of climate change were posing a real threat to countries in the Central Sahel.

Attacks on civilians and infrastructure and conflict between the state and non-state armed groups had led to massive population displacement across Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

The agency said all forcibly displaced people needed urgent lifesaving assistance. Most of them were being hosted by communities, who were often deprived and extremely vulnerable themselves. Food needs were inexorably on the rise at a time when humanitarian access was becoming increasingly challenging.

Growing insecurity was threatening gains made in various sectors including food security and nutrition by disrupting food and trade flows.

“Prompt humanitarian action is now essential to save lives. Addressing the growing humanitarian needs while at the same time safeguarding the progress made in recent years in building communities’ resilience represents a tremendous challenge.”

The WFP aimed to couple its life-saving humanitarian interventions with increased investment in activities that would shore up livelihoods, restore ecosystems, create jobs and build social cohesion, with the goal of transforming lives, ending hunger, reducing unsafe migration, educating young people and stemming conflicted.

But, the agency said, it would require US$209 million by April this year to ensure that families could continue to access lifesaving food assistance.

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