In the Sahel – the semi-arid region of West Africa that borders the Sahara Desert in the north and tropical savannas in the south – the number of people at risk of food insecurity has tripled in just two years, bringing the figure to more than 29 million.
Families are bracing themselves as they enter what’s known as the lean season, or the period after stored food has run out and before the next harvest begins.
An estimated 811,000 people face emergency levels of hunger and require urgent assistance, a nearly eightfold increase since 2019.
"Compared to previous food shortages, this year is different and much more serious,” warns Mamadou Diop, Action Against Hunger’s regional representative in West Africa. “Today, the people who have reached this lean season are already very weakened physically and mentally, because they did not get necessary routine healthcare services due to the pandemic."
Food insecurity continues to grow.
"How can families prepare for the lean season when the prior months have been marked by constant increases in food prices?" says Paloma Martín de Miguel, Action Against Hunger’s regional director for the Sahel. Inflation in the region is now estimated at more than 10% compared to the average of the last five years. Martín de Miguel points out: "Analyses show that more than half of households in the Sahel have difficulty accessing or cannot access affordable nutritious food."
This challenge points to the need for more sustainable and hazard-resilient food systems, in particular through locally-led environmentally sustainable agriculture practices (known as agroecology), which can help ensure the availability of nutritious, diverse, healthy foods while preserving biodiversity.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is compounded by increased violence and insecurity, which has brought the current number of internally displaced persons and refugees in the region to 5.3 million. Violence is causing immense challenges of access. Communities cannot safely access basic services including healthcare, education, water, food, and sanitation infrastructure while, at the same time, humanitarian actors cannot always safely reach vulnerable communities to provide emergency assistance.
With the onset of the hunger season, the Sahel faces an emergency that endangers the lives of the most vulnerable people, especially women, children under five years old, and the elderly. Without urgent action and assistance, the more than 13 million people already suffering from severe food insecurity will be driven further into crisis. More people will go to bed hungry, and more than 1.6 million severely malnourished children will go untreated. Many of them could die or suffer irreversible, lifelong mental and physical consequences.