Nearly a million people in Burkina Faso are expected to need food aid in the coming months, with one in ten already suffering acute malnutrition in the north. Much of West Africa's Sahel, a semi-arid belt below the Sahara, is facing its worst hunger in years after erratic rains caused little vegetation to grow.
Normally the Sahel experiences a hungry season between July and the October harvest, but this year it has already started or is imminent in most places, said World Food Programme (WFP) regional director Abdou Dieng. "The longer we wait, the more the situation will deteriorate," he said. "If we don't act now, it may get complicated." WFP will start giving out food aid and cash next month, on a larger scale than in recent years, he said
But escalating attacks by a local armed group will make it difficult for aid agencies to help in the remote area about 250 kilometres (155 miles) north of capital Ouagadougou, the Red Cross and the United Nations said. Attacks by Ansarul Islam, a militant group founded by a radical preacher in 2016, are becoming increasingly frequent and deadly, the International Crisis Group said
"There is no optimistic scenario," Christian Munezero, head of mission for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Neighbouring Mali is also facing food shortages and jihadist attacks, but has been for years. "What is distinctive about Burkina Faso is that this is a new situation for everyone," said Munezero.
More than 18,000 people have fled their homes since September and countless clinics have closed, said Munezero.Dozens of schools, frequently targeted, have also shut, said UNICEF.