Sahel is one of the fastest growing hunger crises in the world, warns Oxfam

Tuesday 06 July 2021
Werem Binta shows a plate with food. She receives food assistance from Oxfam in Burkina via cash transfers. Credit : Cissé Amadou / Oxfam

Worldwide, 11 people are likely dying every minute from hunger, outpacing COVID-19 fatalities.

A new Oxfam report today says that the West African Sahel region –Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal -is seeing a staggering 67% surge in hunger, continuing to be one of the fastest growing hunger crises in the world.

The report, ‘The Hunger Virus Multiplies’ says that as many as 11 people are likely dying of hunger and malnutrition each minute worldwide. This is more than the current global death rate of COVID-19, which is around seven people per minute.

In the Sahel and the Central African Republic, 17.4 million people are now living in crisis levels of food insecurity or worse – that is 6.6 million more than last year.

Conflict is a key driver of hunger. Countries such as Burkina Faso, Northern Nigeria and the Central African Republic (CAR), are the hardest hit, with hunger levels in Burkina Faso alone rising by more than 200% between 2019 and 2020 and expected to reach 317% by the end of the current lean season. Violence in the central Sahel and Lake Chad basin has forced 5.3 million people to flee their homes and lose everything.

Assalama Dawalak Sidi, Oxfam’s Regional Director for West Africa said: “People in the region have been hit by three lethal Cs –conflict, covid-19 and climate, which together led to catastrophic rise in poverty and hunger. Displaced families are hosted by communities who are already struggling to feed themselves. Social services and humanitarian aid are disrupted because of insecurity.”

In CAR, almost 340,000 people were forced to flee their homes following the violence last December, including many farmers who had to abandon their land or miss the planting season.

Despite this, governments continue to increase their military spending. The combined military spendingof the Sahel countries (Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger) has increased by $930 million last year, enough to fully cover the combined 2020 UN humanitarian appeals of Burkina Faso and Mali.

Assalama Dawalak Sidi added: “The all-security approach only fuels violence and starves civilians. Massive displacement of populations are depriving millions of people from access to food and water in times when they are also battling against the pandemic, economic shocks and weather disasters.”

The report also describes how economic shocks, particularly aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic, and the worsening climate crisis have combined with conflict to push tens of millions of people into hunger. Mass unemployment and severely disrupted food production have led to a 10 percent surge in food prices in West Africa - the highest rise in five years. Unpredictable weather extremes have become more frequent and severe. In the Sahel, the number of floods has increased by 180% since 2015, destroying the homes, crops and livestock of 1.7 million people last year alone.

Hunger has also intensified in emerging epicentres, such as Sierra Leone and Liberia where respectively 22% and 20% of their population are battling with hunger, proportions never seen before.The economic fallout from the pandemic increased food prices while reducing household incomes and their ability to access food.

Saleye, a mother of 5 from the Tillabéry region in Niger, who had to flee to escape violence, told Oxfam: "Sometimes I collect leftover crusts that I cook for my children so they can eat to go back to school. And today when my children came back from school I couldn't even find food for them, they stayed like that."

Assalama Dawalak Sidi said: “Women and girls are the most affected by conflict and hunger. Men are often killed first, leaving the wives to struggle alone for the survival of their children. But what choice do you make when you risk either going to the marketand getting physically or sexually assaulted or watching your children going hungry?”

“Time is running out. We have now entered the lean season with a major food crisis looming for the second year in a row with the number of people going hungry likely to exceed 27 million in the Sahel by August. This is a major crisis that requires urgent support to save lives and restore hope and peace.”

“Governments must urgently address people’s basic needs and ensure safe access to aid agencies. Donor governments must immediately and fully fund the UN’s humanitarian appeal to help save lives now.”

Oxfam in West Africa has helped more than 700,000 vulnerable people in the Sahel region since the pandemic started. Together with partners, Oxfam has helped over 60,000 people in Chad with food and cash.

Oxfam has also helped over 280,000 people in Niger and Senegal cope with the economic impact of COVID-19, including providing food, cash assistance, clean water, sanitation, and hygiene kits. Oxfam aims to reach millions of people over the coming months and is urgently seeking funding to support its programmes across the world. In CAR, the level of funding for the response is only sufficient to reach 39,000 people, which is 28% of our planned response.


Notes to editors: 
  • Download 'The Hunger Virus Multiplies: How the coronavirus is fuelling hunger in a hungry world' and the West Africa annex.
  • The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification is a scale measuring severity of acute food insecurity into five categories IPC Phase 1 to IPC Phase 5, with the most catastrophic level being IPC Phase 5.
  • Oxfam has applied the IPC crude death rate cut offs for Phase 3 to the Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC) 2021 global figure of 155 million people in IPC3+ to calculate the number of people who could die from hunger every minute. This will equal 7,750-15,345 per day (5-11 per minute). This is a conservative rate since Oxfam applied only the crude death rate for IPC Phase 3, which is lower than the expected crude death rates for people in IPC Phase 4 and 5.
  • The global observed daily mortality rate for COVID-19 reached nearly 9,967 deaths per day for the week ending 14 June 2021, which is equivalent to 7 deaths per minute according to data from Johns Hopkins University and Oxford University “Our World in Data” database.
  • Conflict is the primary factor pushing nearly 100 million people in 23 conflict-torn countriesintocrisis or worse levels of food insecurity. Source: GRFC 2021.
  • Except for Madagascar, all countries facing famine-like conditions are torn by conflict. Most countries facing IPC Phase 4 (including Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Syria and Nigeria) are also hit by conflict.
  • 20 out of the 25 countries mentioned in this report were impacted by the collective three drivers of hunger, covid, conflict and climate.
  • Hunger figures in the West African Sahel countries are based on Cadre Harmonise’ IPC3+ records for Jun-Aug 2019 compared to the same period in 2020.
  • According to Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) 2020 Global Report, 48 million people were living in internal displacement as a result of conflict and violence in 59 countries and territories as of 31 December 2020. This figure is the highest ever recorded.
  • Stories, pictures, and video highlighting the impact of conflict, Covid-19 and climate on hunger in Burkina Faso, Chad, CAR, Niger, Benin are available on request.
Contact information: 

Simon Trépanier in Italy | | +39 3888 50 99 70

For updates, please follow on Twitter @Oxfamwestafrica