At least 50 million people could face a severe food crisis in West Africa if the current coronavirus pandemic worsens, an official of the UN food body, FAO, has said.
Coumba Sow, FAO Resilience Coordinator for West Africa, said in an interview published on the website of the Food and Agriculture Organization that the COVID-19 pandemic will have serious consequences for millions of people already grappling with hunger and conflict in West Africa, except there is a quick response.
“As most of West Africa is already affected by other complex crises, our first priority is to safeguard and maintain our current emergency response, especially activities supporting the upcoming agricultural campaign, which will help mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on food security,” Sow said.
She said those measures will be particularly challenging given the operational difficulties due to the movement restrictions introduced by most countries.
The region, which includes Nigeria, has seen a rise in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths. The region has for years been a hotspot for humanitarian crises caused by conflicts and natural disasters.
Humanitarian agencies have worried that the Covid-19 pandemic will create more problems for the region.
Ms Sow said already in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, some 4 million people are facing extreme hunger and this could rise to 5.5 million people by August.
The 2020 Global Report on Food Crises said some 5.1 million Nigerians are estimated to be in immediate need of food assistance between March and May 2020. They include 1.4 million people in Borno State, 1 million in Yobe and 500,000 in Adamawa.
The report says the number of food insecure people increased by 1.1 million people from October to December, 2019.
With the Covid-19 pandemic, the situation if not attended to may worsen in Nigeria to the tune of 7.1 million between June to August, the report said.
To compare with other West African countries, the report says Niger and Burkina Faso are estimated to have 1.6 million and 1.6 million people in need of food, lower than the 5.1 million people estimated for Nigeria.
Sow said across West Africa, as of April, over 11 million people needed immediate food assistance – mostly due to conflict.
“And this number will continue rising, potentially reaching 17 million during the lean season (June- August) if we don’t respond fast,” she said.
“Many people are not only hungry. They are also uprooted and have lost what they had. The ones I spoke to have the same story – of villages attacked; of family members killed or displaced; of homes or fields destroyed; of animals abandoned or killed.”
She urged member countries to adapt their Covid-19 response plans to the consequences of the covid-19 pandemic.
She further stressed the importance of anticipating Covid-19’s impacts on agriculture, food security as these are important actions to adopt at national and regional levels.
“What is crucial is to anticipate COVID-19’s impacts on agriculture, food security and the lives of vulnerable women and children. Ensuring that food systems and food supply chains are maintained as one of the most important actions to take at national and regional levels,” she added.