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UN warns of 18 million facing severe hunger in region of Africa

Burkina Faso in West Africa (Alamy/PA)

The UN has warned that 18 million people in Africa’s Sahel region face severe hunger in the next three months, citing the impacts of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the coronavirus pandemic, climate-induced shocks and rising costs.

The hunger crisis may force increased numbers of people to migrate out of the affected areas, the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

It is the largest number of people at risk of severe hunger across the region since 2014, and four countries – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger – are looking at “alarming levels” with nearly 1.7 million people facing emergency levels of food insecurity there, according to the UN agency.

Parts of the Sahel region, a vast territory stretching across the south of the Sahara Desert, have faced their worst agricultural production in more than a decade, and food shortages could worsen as the lean season arrives in late summer, said Tomson Phiri, a spokesman for the UN’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning World Food Programme.

“The situation is definitely going to get worse before it gets better,” he told reporters in Geneva. “We may see more people trying to make ends meet by migrating: It’s a very, very likely possibility.”

Many people from the region are among migrants who seek to travel north to Europe in hopes of economic opportunity, more stability and safety.

“A combination of violence, insecurity, deep poverty and record-high food prices is exacerbating malnutrition and driving millions to the fringes of survival,” said Martin Griffiths, the head of the OCHA.

“The recent spike in food prices driven by the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is threatening to turn a food security crisis into a humanitarian disaster,” he said.

Those two countries are key producers of wheat, barley and other agricultural products, and the conflict has almost entirely halted exports through the Black Sea.

Mr Griffiths’ office is releasing 30 million dollars from its emergency relief fund for the four African countries.

Humanitarian groups earlier this year launched appeals seeking 3.8 billion dollars in aid for the region in 2022, but they remain only 12% funded, the OCHA said.