Drought could hinder access to food for 55 million Africans

​Seca pode dificultar acesso à alimentação a 55 milhões de africanos

Almost 55 million people in West and Central Africa will struggle to feed themselves during the dry season from June to August, according to a study recently released by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP).

The study, carried out in March by Cadre Harmonisé and released by the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel, shows that there has been an increase of four million people in a situation of food insecurity compared to the figures forecast in November 2023.

"The situation is particularly worrying in the conflict-affected north of Mali, where an estimated 2,600 people could face catastrophic hunger," the WFP said in a statement.

According to the study, there has been a change in the factors that lead to food insecurity in the region.

"Economic challenges such as currency devaluation, rising inflation, stagnant production and trade barriers have aggravated the food crisis, affecting people across the region, with Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Mali being the worst affected," he said.

The prices of the main cereals continue to rise throughout the region, from 10% to more than 100%, compared to the last five years, due to monetary inflation, fuel and transport costs, sanctions by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and restrictions on the flow of agricultural products, he explained.

"Monetary inflation is one of the main factors behind price volatility in Ghana (23%), Nigeria (30%), Sierra Leone (54%), Liberia (10%) and The Gambia (16%)," he said.

According to the WFP, West and Central Africa remain heavily dependent on imports to meet their population's food needs.

"Cereal production for the 2023-2024 agricultural year shows a deficit of 12 million tons, while per capita availability of cereals has decreased by 2% compared to the last agricultural year," he said.

Malnutrition in these regions is "alarmingly high", with 16.7 million children under the age of 5 severely malnourished and more than two out of three households unable to afford healthy food, according to the WFP.

In addition, eight out of 10 children between the ages of six and 23 months do not consume the minimum number of foods necessary for proper growth and development.

High food prices, limited access to health care and inadequate diets are the main factors behind acute malnutrition in children under five, adolescents and pregnant women, he added.

In some areas of northern Nigeria, the prevalence of acute malnutrition in women aged between 15 and 49 is as high as 31%, he said.

"Good nutrition in the early years and childhood is the promise of a productive and educated workforce for tomorrow's society. To make a lasting difference in the lives of children, we must consider the situation of the child as a whole and strengthen the systems of education, health, water and sanitation, food and social protection," said the regional director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Gilles Fagninou, quoted in the statement.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), UNICEF and the WFP call on national governments, international organizations, civil society and the private sector to implement sustainable solutions that strengthen food security, increase agricultural productivity and mitigate the adverse effects of economic volatility. (noam)

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