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Sahel Hunger Grows, Worsened by Violence

FILE- In this file photo, malnourished children wait for treatment in the pediatric department of Boulmiougou hospital in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, April 15, 2022.

Starvation is set to worsen in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Mauritania during the upcoming “lean interval” between harvests when food stocks are most depleted. The NGO International Rescue Committee is urging the global community to take rapid action to address the Sahel's extreme hunger.

Western Africa’s Sahel region is naturally arid, so growing sufficient food crops has always been a challenge. But that situation has been worsened by ongoing - and spreading - conflict.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says at least 2 million people in the low-income Sahelian region have been displaced throughout the four nations because of jihadist conflict. The ICRC says over 70% percent are in Burkina Faso, where food insecurity and battle forced almost 1.8 million people to flee their homes.

The region saw the number of people needing emergency food assistance soar from 7 to 30 million between 2015 and 2022 according to the International Rescue Committee. With the number expected to rise to over 40 million people by June 2022, the committee is sounding the alarm for action.

Observers say food isn’t the only need in the Sahel – to prevent mortality during famine, health care, food shelter, and clean water are also essential.

But one outside factor potentially hampers robust response: the conflict in Ukraine.

On April 25, the U.N. called for $2.25 billion in humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, with at least 47% funded so far. In comparison, humanitarian response plans for Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, and Mauritania this year show a target of US$1.82 billion, with less than 10% funded.

Adding to the Sahel’s dire situation is the COVID pandemic and its demands for resources and attention.


Civilians who volunteered to fight jihadi violence told The Associated Press they’re battling jihadis on empty stomachs. They say jihadist rebels steal crops and livestock and chase people from their farms. These rebels, authorities say, are linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State, and are blamed for killing thousands and pushing those who survive from farms into cities.

A U.N. Security Council Report says along with conflict’s direct impact on farming, it also contributes indirectly by disrupting markets and increasing food prices, among other things. The Security Council also condemned the use of starvation as a warfare tactic, and that it has adopted and can consider adopting new sanctions on those responsible for obstructing humanitarian assistance.

NGO Save The Children Humanitarian Director Gabriella Waaijman says that the international community must address the underlying causes of hunger first.

“I think our main message is don’t leave it at response only. We need to make sure that we are responding to the underling causes. This is about economic systems that work for people and rolling out social protection systems in which shocks are not a surprise anymore but something we are prepared for.”