The U.N World Food Program says Africa’s Sahel region is facing unprecedented food insecurity, caused by soaring prices, terrorist activity, high regional demand and COVID-19.
The WFP’s representative in Burkina Faso warns the situation is critical, with millions more people facing hunger in the coming months.
In large areas of Burkina Faso, terrorist groups linked to Islamic State and al-Qaida move freely about the countryside, attacking civilians and security forces alike.
While the conflict has affected millions in various ways, for Saidou Sawadogo, it meant losing his livestock and forcing him to flee to Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou.
“Yes, my animals were stolen," he explained. He said terrorists came in the early hours of the morning in large numbers and took around 1,000 sheep. A few days later, they came back to the market and took cellphones from everyone, and that's when he decided to leave, he said.
Sawadogo is not alone. Meat prices are spiraling in Burkina Faso’s markets because of rampant cattle rustling by terror groups.
Mahamoudou Barry, who runs a livestock market in Ouagadougou, said animal prices have increased over the past three years due to insecurity. He said many people were killed and animals had been stolen.
"Three years ago, the price of animals started at $300 to $430. Today, the price starts at $700. Before, we earned more, but it’s a lot less these days,” he complained.
A toxic mix of factors is causing food prices to soar across the region, according to the World Food Program.
Cattle rustling by terror groups is just one small factor, said Antoine Renard, the WFP’s country director for Burkina Faso.
“There’s a high demand in the region, so that’s one aspect in terms of market dimension. The second one, which is the conflict and, of course, it has an impact on how you can still continue to harvest. How can you continue to make sure that your markets are up and running in terms of Burkina Faso? And the last one is also the economic impact of the COVID-19,” said Renard.
Record food insecurity
The WFP says a record 28 million people are food insecure in West and Central Africa.
It also says that in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, hunger could increase by 50% in the coming months, affecting more than 8 million people.
The Sahel’s more than 2.5 million displaced by conflict, like Soumaila Sawadogo, are especially vulnerable.
He said the people in the area around the site for displaced people where he lived have been very helpful. But, he said, the problem the community has is one of lack of water and food.
"We only have help from the U.N. They helped us with houses and food, rice, oil, beans and condiments,” he said.
Meanwhile, the WFP says it will have to cut rations to those displaced by conflict if it does not receive more funding soon.