Women fetching water at the village well in Dori, Burkina Faso.
Photo: © Adam Jones/flickr

Sahel facing extreme hunger crisis

FAO, UNICEF and the World Food Programme have issued a joint position paper providing an overview of the food security, malnutrition and livelihood situation in the Sahel region in West Africa. They are calling for early action to respond to the most pressing needs.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) issued a joint position paper addressing action needs in the West African Sahel region in March 2018. According to different forecasts, the region is facing an extreme hunger crisis in 2018 due to lacking rainfall. The latest Cadre Harmonisé food security analysis (November 2017) indicates that 4.25 million people will require food assistance during the lean season (May-August 2018) in pastoral areas across the Sahel (Burkina Faso, Chad, the Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal).

Drought, high food prices, conflict and market distortions have further aggravated the food security and nutrition situation in the Sahel since the end of 2017. Various assessments from United Nations agencies, governments and clusters suggest that the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance could increase in the coming months, reaching up to 6.8 million.

Severe rainfall deficits in many parts of the Sahelian belt in 2017 have affected pasture availability in major pastoral and agropastoral areas of the region and have led to an early onset of the lean season. This has had a significant impact on livestock conditions and movements. Up to 40 and 95 per cent of the pastoral areas were negatively affected in Chad and Mauritania, respectively, while about 2.5 million pastoralists and agropastoralists require urgent livelihood assistance.

To address the immediate needs of the most vulnerable over the next twelve months, FAO, UNICEF and WFP have developed a common programmatic approach which also aims to address longer-term structural challenges. Timely support from all partners, including donors, can help mitigate the current and foreseen deterioration of the situation in the Sahel. This is also key to breaking the vicious circle of chronic hunger and malnutrition affecting millions of vulnerable people in the region.

Additional risk factors

The Sahel is recurrently affected by a cycle of mutually reinforcing factors of vulnerability and instability. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the latest major drought from 2011 to 2012 left more than 18 million people facing hunger and one million children at risk of dying from malnutrition. Historical trends show that the region faces drought approximately every three years, and a major drought every five to ten years.

Additional risk factors are irregular rainfall and local deficits in agricultural production and pasture, border crossing restrictions and adverse regulations constraining pastoralists’ movement, high staple food and animal feed prices, and disrupted markets, as well as increasing displacement and armed conflicts.

Different tasks, common action

In the first step, priority areas have been set. In the next step, FAO, WFP and UNICEF are currently finalising the pre-lean and lean season Response Plans and Contingency Plans at country level by:

  • conducting joint food security and nutrition assessments in support of the ongoing Cadre Harmonisé analysis on joint market analyses, the pastoral situation and livestock crisis monitoring
  • implementing the UNICEF/WFP approach for integrated management and prevention of acute malnutrition among children of 6 to 59 months, and pregnant and lactating women and girls
  • providing support to governments and regional structures and political advocacy for urgent action in defining policy actions at national and regional levels
  • co-ordinating joint activities (focus area, geographical area, type of activity, partners) at country level through active clusters or technical working groups



More information:
Joint position paper FAO/WFP/UNICEF Early action scale-up of emergency response

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