Monday, June 20, 2022

Hunger Spreads Across the Sahel

 Niger is on the frontline of the climate crisis. The food is all finished and until the rains come no planting can be done in southern NigerIncreasingly erratic rainfall and longer dry seasons mean that many parts of the country have not had a good harvest in a decade. Temperatures are rising 1.5 times faster here than the rest of the world, leading to a cycle of droughts that are eroding the 14% of land that is arable. Last year there was a 39% drop in cereal production.

“The population is on the brink of a dire humanitarian crisis,” says Ilaria Manunza, of Save the Children. “In fact, we are already in the middle of it – the child malnutrition rate is one of the highest in the world.”

Jihadist violence has spilled over from neighbouring Mali and Nigeria, uprooting hundreds of thousands of people, while the economic shock of the war in Ukraine 2,800 miles away has sent food prices soaring.

About 44% of Niger’s children are malnourished and 4.4 million people – 18% of its population – are predicted to face crisis levels of food insecurity or worse this year, twice as many as last year.

Underresourced humanitarian agencies only have funds to help 3.3 million people, leaving more than a million without the aid they need, as donors grapple with other crises. A recent emergency response plan from Niger’s government to deal with the crisis has a shortfall of $200m in its $280m budget, while the UN’s World Food Programme slashed rations to those it helps in Niger by 50% in January as the global food crisis bites.

Like other Sahel countries, Niger sees a big rise in child malnutrition cases during the “lean season” – the gap between harvests that lasts for about four months, starting in June. But doctors and humanitarians say these spikes are becoming more pronounced as the climate crisis bites. The lean season is starting earlier than expected as poor rains mean failed harvests, leaving families unable to replenish stocks or feed themselves.

Everything is becoming very expensive. You see a lot of men and women begging for food. The situation is similar in Burkina Faso and Mali, where people cannot be reached because of jihadist violence. In total, 41 million people across west Africa are facing food insecurity this year, a number that has quadrupled since 2019.

 Paolo Cernuschi, Niger director for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), explained, “We already had critically high malnutrition rates, with climate change and insecurity. Now we have the war in Ukraine piled on top and food prices have reached all-time highs.”

The IRC has been forced to scale back its operations amid soaring fuel and food prices. On Thursday, David Beasley, head of the WFP, said the economic shocks of the Ukraine war had caused his organisation’s operating costs to rise by $70m a month. As a result, the WFP has reduced people’s rations and was recently forced to suspend some operations in South Sudan, where it feeds 6 million people.

Ali Bandiare, president of the Nigerien Red Cross, says the crisis is the worst in the past decade: “And at the same time, it is one of the least funded. The war in Europe is adding to this problem. We fear redirecting humanitarian budgets to deal with the Ukraine crisis risks dangerously aggravating the situation.”

‘We just pray for rain’: Niger is in the eye of the climate crisis – and children are starving | Global development | The Guardian

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