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UN Agencies Warn of Hunger in East, West Africa

FILE - Ibrahim Mohammed, left, a farmer who lost most of his seedlings and farmlands to violent attacks in Nigeria's north, works on a rice farm along with his family members in Agatu village on the outskirts of Benue State in north central Nigeria, Jan 5, 2022.

United Nations agencies are warning of dangerously high levels of hunger in East and West Africa, urging swift global action to head off catastrophic outcomes with donations slow to roll in.

The World Food Program reports that seven countries in the East Africa region —Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda — are experiencing unprecedented levels of food insecurity.

WFP said that nearly 60 million people are not getting enough food to remain active and healthy, forcing families to sell their livestock and engage in negative coping strategies such as prostitution to survive.

“If we do not get the necessary funding, people in Phase 4 and Phase 5 are at risk of dying. And that is what we are concerned about,” Dominique Ferretti, senior emergency officer in WFP’s regional bureau in Nairobi, said.

According to the U.N.'s Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) scale for acute food insecurity, people in Phase 4 are facing extreme food shortages and risk hunger-related deaths. People in Phase 5 are starving and have reached the calamitous stage of famine.

He noted that the devastating humanitarian situation in the Horn of Africa has not been caused by any one single emergency.

“In the past three years, Eastern Africa has experienced COVID-19, an Ebola outbreak and other epidemics ranging from cholera to measles to dengue, a devastating desert locust plague that swept the region, destroying crops and income. And, perhaps more importantly the vast conflict and insecurity forcing millions from their homes, new refugee displacements from countries including Ethiopia, Somalia and now, unfortunately,” he said.

Rains have fallen in the Horn of Africa, bringing relief to the region, which has suffered the longest drought in recent history. But U.N. agencies warn one rain is not enough to bring an end to the crisis.

Liesbeth Aelbrecht, WHO incident manager for the greater Horn of Africa emergency, said acute hunger in the region has sent malnutrition rates soaring, with more than 10.4 million children under the age of five estimated to be facing acute malnutrition in the region.

She said Sudan, which is amid a brutal war, has an estimated 4 million acutely malnourished children and pregnant and breastfeeding women, “out of which more than 100,000 children under five are severely acutely malnourished with medical complications.”


Matthias Schmale, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, last briefed international donors a year ago on the critical situation in northeast Nigeria. Since then, he said, conditions have worsened for millions of people in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states.

“This crisis is primarily the result of years protracted conflict. We are in the 13th year of an armed international conflict, and the insecurity that comes with the conflict, that continues to prevent many people from farming or earning their own income,” Schmale said addressing a press conference in Geneva.

In just one year, he said, the estimated number of people needing humanitarian assistance increased by 500,000 to 6 million and the number of people facing severe hunger also climbed, to 4.3 million, with more than half a million living on the verge of famine.

Conditions will be particularly difficult for people in northeast Nigeria during the peak of the lean season from June to August, Schmale said, and the U.N. needs to raise $396 million to help 2.8 million people over the next six months.

While half the year has gone by, humanitarian officials working in the region note only 25% of what they need for their life-saving operations has been funded.

David Stevenson, WFP country director in Nigeria, says money is so tight, that the U.N. will be unable to assist 1.5 million of these people, though they, too, are needy.

“And those were hard choices of prioritization based on those that are most affected by the conflict, those that are most affected by the floods and inflation,” he said.

“Already, we have people coming to our offices saying, you know, they are hungry, they are extremely hungry and people appealing on their behalf. We are turning them away.”

This report was compiled by Lisa Schlein.