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Starvation a reality in the conflict-ridden Sahel region

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Picture Credit: AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell – In this file, herder Oumar Ba walks away after showing where one of his cows died, he says, of hunger, outside Dikka village, in the Matam region of northeastern Senegal.

By Chad Williams

Millions of people in the Sahel risk dying of starvation if much-needed aid is not distributed timeously to the conflict-ridden Southern African region. Conflict in the region has been largely driven by a jihadist insurgency centred in the states of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, which are most affected by the crisis.

The World Health Organization estimates that by the end of 2022 more than 33 million people across Burkina Faso, the far north of Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger, and NorthEast Nigeria will need live-saving assistance, an increase of more than 25% on the past five years. Add devastating natural disasters such as drought and flooding into the mix, due to climate change, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Scientists say that the temperatures in the Sahel are projected to rise by between 2°C and 4.3°C by 2080, compared to pre-industrial levels, with higher temperatures and more temperature extremes projected for the northern part of the region.

More than 80% of the people in the Sahel rely on agriculture to survive. Human rights bodies say that when violence moves through a region, people often must flee. As a result, crops may not be planted, tended to or harvested. This places entire communities at risk of hunger or famine and contributes to the growing food crisis.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that at the end of June 2022 in the Sahel region alone (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad) 4 820 871 people fled their homes, including nearly three million internally displaced persons (IDPs), According to the WHO, this makes the Sahel crisis one of the fastestgrowing ones in the world.

Essentially, it’s a race against the clock to save lives. Ironically, the Sahel is blessed with great potential for renewable energy and sits atop some of the largest aquifers on the continent. The region is one of the richest in the world in terms of natural resources, including oil, gold and uranium. It also has abundant human and cultural resources. So how and why is the Sahel plagued with growing conflict and a humanitarian crisis that seems to be exponentially growing over the years? Analysts say that poor leadership, growing corruption, exploitation of natural resources, security and conflict are compounding a dire situation which is having a huge impact on the supply of food to millions of people.

As Africa continues to bear the brunt of climate change, things are only going to get worse if collective action is not taken to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Climate Risk Profile says that the picture painted in the region is a complex one of interacting factors of crises in agriculture, violent conflicts and weak governance.

If African leaders don’t work together now, more than 10.5 million people in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Mauritania are at risk of facing hunger during the coming lean agricultural period, which is the time between harvests when food stocks are most depleted as the conflict worsens an ongoing food crisis, says the UN.

It is safe to say that if urgent action is not taken in this conflict-ridden region, millions of people remain at risk of not only starvation but an entire generation of children could potentially be decimated if action is not taken immediately.

Williams is a multimedia journalist with the African News Agency (ANA).