Plan International and World Vision are standing with young people in West and Central Africa to call for urgent action by donors, national governments and the international community, for increased investments, and long-lasting solutions to the humanitarian crises in the region.
The situation is alarming. Actively listening to the voices of girls and young people is key for lasting solutions.
The West and Central Africa region continues to be an epicentre of deteriorating and unprecedented levels of armed violence and insecurity. Violence and conflicts are the main drivers of the humanitarian crises. Climate shocks continue to drive acute hunger for the foreseeable future, driving displacement and pushing millions to the brink of starvation. The number of hungry people in West and Central Africa at 35 million and is projected to reach an all- time high of 48 million people (including 9 million children) this year 2023, if urgent and long-lasting solutions to address these crises are not delivered soon.
The prolonged effects of the restriction measures to control COVID, and the Russia – Ukraine conflict continue to worsen food insecurity and increasing protection risks in the region. Donor attention and investments is seemingly being repurposed to emerging crises, with relatively limited attention directed to the more protracted crisis in the West and Central African region.
Dire projections of mass food insecurity are materializing.
In the Sahel alone, over 32.5 million people are severely food insecure, the highest number since 2016. It is estimated that close to 4,800 persons in Nigeria and Burkina Faso are facing famine like conditions (IPC Phase 5). In 2023, over 37.8 million Sahelians will need assistance and protection. This is over 3 million more than in 2022. In the Lake Chad Basin, more than 17 million people, including 6 million children live in the conflict affected areas and need humanitarian support. After nearly 13 years of violence, basic social services are already limited and natural resources are severely strained. At the end of 2022, about 5.6 million people in the Lake Chad Basin were severely food insecure, this is the highest figure in 4 years and includes 300,000 children who are severely malnourished.
The food and nutrition security outlook for 2023 is extremely worrying. In conflict-affected areas of the Lake Chad Basin (Cameroon, Nigeria and Chad) and the Central Sahel region (Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger), it is projected that 25,500 people will experience catastrophic hunger (phase 5) during the June-August 2023 lean season unless urgent action is taken now. “My breast milk was not enough for both of my children because I was not eating enough myself”, said Ada, mother of malnourished twins in the Mopti region, Mali. The current socio-economic conditions are seen as aggravating factors for civil unrest, thus this should be a wake-up call for all governments and their partners across the region.
Girls, adolescent girls and women are the most impacted.
As poverty and lack of access to livelihoods deepen, families increasingly resort to negative coping mechanisms. Girls are at increased risks of child, early, forced marriage, early pregnancy, dropping out of school or child labour. Girls and women also face a high risk of sexual violence while collecting water and fuel wood needed to prepare food. As an internally displaced girl in a conflict afflicted community in Burkina Faso recently told us: “The rate of rape is increasing because we are abandoned, there is no one to help us displaced people…”
The long-term future of many children is being jeopardized as over 12,400 schools are closed or non-operational due to violence, with girls the most likely to be removed from school and the least likely to return to it after prolonged interruptions. As Biba, 17, an internally displaced girl in Tillaberi region, recently told us: “A few months after the death of my adoptive mother, my older brother withdrew me from school and gave me in marriage to a man I didn’t know. I couldn’t stand my husband touching me because it really hurts.”. Women and girls are often the last to eat when food is scarce. “We women suffer more. I often go without food so that my children can eat.” Bibata, 45, IDP in the Centre-North region of Burkina Faso, mother of 7.
Affected countries amongst the most vulnerable to climate change.
The climate crisis is also taking an ongoing heavy toll across the region. As of 9 December 2022, the worst flooding in years affected 5.5 million people in the Sahel countries. Heavy rains and floods continued to take a significant toll on human life, property, farmlands, and livestock, killing 946 persons, injuring 3,701, and displacing 1.8 million. Some 437,000 houses were destroyed in the region. Many of the affected regions were already struggling with high levels of food insecurity, malnutrition, instability, and violence. “We ate once a day, there were times when we slept on an empty stomach, without having eaten anything’’ Rachida, 18 years old, affected by floods in Niamey.
Insufficiency of funding and increase in humanitarian needs.
The scaling up of the response to meet the urgent needs of people is hampered by an insufficiency of funding, and the crisis is outpacing the response. Early recovery and resilience responses are the least funded. This risks turning back the clock on overall human development and human rights gains made over the past decade, including in girls’ rights and gender equality. Rotimy Djossaya, Executive Director Plan International West and Central Africa, warns: “2021 saw a drastic increase in humanitarian needs in the Central Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin, reaching 22.2 million people in need of life-saving assistance by December 2022. At the same time only 41% of the funds required by the humanitarian community to respond to urgent needs in the Central Sahel was met, while 37% was met for entire Lake Chad Basin.”
Plan International Response highlights.
Plan International in June 2022, declared a Red Alert Level to address the hunger crisis, including priority countries in the region; Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, by scaling up response efforts such as food distributions, cash and voucher assistance, school meals, malnutrition screening and nutrition supplementation, as well as livelihood protection and support activities such as livestock supplementary feeding, seed and other agriculture input provision. Our program promotes inclusive quality education in emergency, provision of psychosocial support, Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) information, Gender Based Violence (GBV) prevention. We are also implementing youth empowerment and stabilisation programs, as well as conflict transformation / social cohesion.
We call on donors, national governments, international institutions, UN bodies, to stand in solidarity to urgently address the humanitarian crises in the region by engaging the following Urgent actions:
Urgently provide USD$ 21.5 billion to pull 49 million people from the brink of famine and promote the resilience of 48 million people, including 9 million children. Funds need to be readily available, immediately provided, flexible and unearmarked.
Those states and institutions that pledged to prevent hunger in the 2021 G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Crises Compact must meet their obligations, including their commitment to act under a ‘no regrets’ approach to prevent mass loss of life, and be accountable for progress on their commitments.
Bring girls and young people to the negotiation table, actively listen to their voices as key partners for engaging lasting solutions to the crisis, this includes funding youth led initiatives.
Do not divert funds from the response to the crisis in West and Central Africa, including for the hunger crisis to other emergencies, including the armed conflict in Ukraine. Recognizing the horrific crisis caused by the dire situation in the country and the increasing number of refugees, funds for this response must be additional to those already committed.
Acting early saves lives. Funding for anticipatory action and preparedness, based on early warning indictors is critical, where appropriate using forecast- based financing. Adequate, timely and flexible funding must be made available to support interventions
Increase funding for gender responsive child protection, gender-based violence prevention, early childhood development and sexual and reproductive health and rights services and for critical school feeding programs.
Humanitarian and development efforts must work in tandem, based on do-no-harm principles and community acceptance. Further investments in multi- dimensional solutions remain required. Host governments and local communities are first responders – they need support. Only coordinated action and strong partnership among local communities, national governments, humanitarian and development actors and international partners and sustained investments in social services can turn the crisis around.
Sex- and age-disaggregated data about food security needs, including information about the needs of school-age children and adolescents, is essential to meeting their age- and gender specific needs, particularly of adolescent girls.
Support should be provided to locally-led responses wherever possible. Local organizations, including youth-led organizations, need direct, flexible and increased funding and to have a central role in decision making about the response.
Source: World Vision