A new United Nations food assessment of 17 West African countries finds more than 19 million people in the region will go hungry during the upcoming lean season between June and September, when food stocks are depleted. This is a 77 percent increase over last year’s number, and it’s being complicated further by the coronavirus pandemic.
The World Food Program calls this huge upsurge in the number of hungry people unprecedented. Those who are most at risk, it says, are in the Central Sahel region, which includes Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.
Eric Branckaert is WFP senior vulnerability analysis and mapping adviser. He says insecurity is a major factor behind the humanitarian crisis affecting the Central Sahel.
“With increased insecurity incidents over the years and it is continuing to escalate this year. This results in serious movement of population and internally displaced persons … on top of that, we obviously have the COVID-19 coming our way,” he said.
Branckaert notes the food assessment analysis does not include the potential impact of COVID-19 on the region’s food security.
His colleague, WFP senior Regional Emergency Preparedness and Response adviser, Alexandre Le Cuziat, says COVID-19 is likely to have a profound impact on livelihoods and put the region’s 12 million acutely malnourished children at risk.
He tells VOA a key concern is that COVID-19 will break the global supply chain, which controls the import of essential products, including supplementary feeding and nutritional products needed to treat malnourished children.
“Some of the bigger companies and, indeed, the main suppliers globally are in countries that are currently under strict confinements and a very reduced level of production," said Le Cuziat. "A lot of the nutritious products are produced in India or France, for example, where factories have had to reduce or close or reduce significantly their production. We have big concerns on this.”
The World Health Organization reports more than 6,000 COVID-19 cases are confirmed in Africa and are threatening fragile health systems on the continent. Its latest report puts the number of cases in Burkina Faso alone at more than 260, including 14 deaths.
The U.N. World Food Program is urgently appealing for $208 million to provide 3 million people in the Central Sahel with lifesaving aid over the next six months.