By Ruth Tene Natsa, Abuja
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) says a funding crunch following the large-scale emergency food and nutrition assistance operation in the Sahel, means they will only be able to assist just over half of the 11.6 million initially targeted – leaving millions stranded without aid as the lean season sets in and hunger starts to peak.
In a statement to EarthNews Nigeria, signed by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) Head of Communications, Advocacy, and Marketing, Chi Lael, it stated that Mali and Chad will be hit the hardest, with 800,000 people at risk of resorting to desperate measures to cope, including engaging in survival sex, early marriage, or joining non-state armed groups.
The statement revealed that the WFP had initially targeted 11.6 million women, men, and children – out of 19.2 million people in humanitarian need – in Burkina Faso, Chad, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and north-eastern Nigeria from June to September 2023.
It added that to ensure adequate response to the emergency needs across the five Sahel countries over the next six months (July- December 2023), WFP requires US$ 794 million
The statement stated that the funding constraints have forced WFP to roll out assistance for just 6.2 million of the most vulnerable people – with a focus on refugees, newly displaced people, malnourished children under 5, pregnant women, and breastfeeding women and girls.
WFP Regional Director ad interim, for Western Africa. Margot Vandervelden, said “We’re in a tragic situation. During this year’s lean season, millions of families will lack sufficient food reserves to sustain them until the next harvests in September and many will receive little to no assistance to tide them through the gruelling months ahead. We must take immediate action to prevent a massive slide into catastrophic hunger,” said
“We need a twin-track approach to stop hunger in the Sahel – we must address acute hunger through humanitarian assistance while tackling the structural causes of food insecurity by increasing investments in resilient food systems and expanding government social protection programmes,” Vandervelden added
The statement further added that, food insecurity had reached a 10-year high in West and Central Africa, affecting 47.2 million people during the June-August lean season – including 45,000 people in Burkina Faso and Mali facing catastrophic hunger according to the March Cadre Harmonisé analysis. Malnutrition rates have also surged, with 16.5 million children under 5 set to be acutely malnourished this year – an 83 percent rise from the 2015-2022 average.
Conflict remains a key driver of hunger in the region, leading to forced population displacements that have emptied out entire villages and limit communities’ access to land for farming. Conflict is also spreading across the region and into coastal countries risking a spread of instability into new and previously stable areas. In just six months, the number of people fleeing violence in the Central Sahel and seeking refuge in four Gulf of Guinea countries has nearly quadrupled, rising from 30,000 in January to 110,000 people in June.
It added that WFP’s lean season response aims to provide life-saving food and nutrition assistance to families facing acute hunger at a time when food stocks dwindle. However, proactive investments in prevention and smart longer-term solutions can significantly reduce reliance on such emergency actions. These solutions include resilience-building activities, social protection programmes and anticipatory actions like climate insurance pay-outs.
In 2023, climate risk insurance pay-outs from the African Risk Capacity (ARC) totalling US$15.4 million enabled WFP to provide cash transfers to 490,000 people in Burkina Faso, The Gambia, and Mali who were impacted by drought in 2022. This response allowed farmers to recover from the impacts of droughts as they were able to meet their basic needs including purchasing food for their families and providing seeds for the next planting season.
In partnership with UNICEF, WFP is also implementing a social protection programme in Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Mauritania, contributing to strengthening national systems, supporting millions of people through cash-based transfers and complementary services. The programme also contributes to strengthening the national capacity to anticipate and respond to climatic and other shocks that lead to humanitarian need.