A food crisis in the Sahel fuelled by climate crises and conflict is having a devastating impact on children as families cannot afford to buy food and are withdrawing children from school with education no longer seen as a priority, according to a Save the Children report.
The report, ‘The impact of food and nutritional crisis on children in Burkina Faso and Niger’, launched this week, was based on a survey of 630 people in the most hunger-affected areas of Niger and Burkina Faso in West Africa as the world faces its most severe food crisis this century.
Researchers found that 84% of people are eating cheaper and less nutritious foods, and 57% are reducing meal sizes. Worryingly 34% are skipping meals for an entire day, leading to more children suffering from malnutrition.
Food prices have rocketed in Niger and Burkina Faso due to climate shocks such as flooding and drought impacting crops, conflict leading to displacement and an inability to farm, and the war in Ukraine driving up the price of imported foods. About 96% of respondents across both countries reported an increase in food costs.
Djeneba, 18, in Tillaberi in Niger said:
“It is the very poor who suffer the most from the food crisis because, with rising prices, they do not have the means to meet their needs. In very poor households, the meals are simple, with no vegetables, no meat and just a few condiments.”
Souleymane*, a father in Dori, Burkina Faso, added:
“Life has become very hard as food prices have doubled or even tripled in some local markets. Families have become very tired due to rising prices and the unavailability of some basic necessities.”
Concerns over safety as the result of armed violence, and a lack of food are pushing some families to pull their children out of school, reducing their chances of ever returning.
Salimata*, 16, from Dori in Burkina Faso, said:
“Today our parents are more concerned with feeding their children than their schooling. In any case, with the attacks by armed groups, the school has been very affected, it [education] is no longer a priority, we’re experiencing this with the situation of food problems.”
Armed violence has a direct impact on children’s education, particularly in Burkina Faso where 98% respondents described the security situation is bad, very bad and even catastrophic. In Burkina Faso, 84% of respondents mentioned attacks on schools and 82% referenced attacks on teachers.
Some parents have even resorted to more extreme measures, like marrying off their children.
Mohamed*, 22, from Burkina Faso, added:
“Currently, parents are unable to feed their children, and some do not hesitate when they have the opportunity to release a child. It is true that you will see few fathers who will recognise this, but marriage is an opportunity to free your child. In a way, it’s one less person to feed.”
The Central Sahel is often referred to as the ‘forgotten crisis’ because of its complex and protracted humanitarian crises, which have escalated in recent years. While humanitarian needs are growing, women, girls and children are the hardest hit.
In 2023, an estimated 1.9 million children under five will likely be acutely malnourished in Niger, including 430,000 who are expected to be severely malnourished. In Burkina Faso, an estimated 400,000 children under five will likely suffer from acute malnutrition, with nearly a quarter likely to experience the most severe form of malnutrition.
Despite steps taken by both governments to halt the food crisis, more needs to be done to avert a catastrophe, Save the Children warned.
Vishna Shah, Regional Director of Advocacy and Campaigns for Save the Children, said:
“Conflict and climate change are driving an already dire hunger crisis in one of the world’s most complex regions, to unprecedented levels – jeopardizing the future of millions of children.
“As communities try to cope with rising rates of hunger, rising violence and the negative effects of climate change, families are resorting to extreme measures like pulling their children out of school, as well as child marriage – which robs girls of an opportunity to keep learning, be children, and in many cases, to survive.
“International donors must urgently step up their support for Niger and Burkina Faso to prevent an already catastrophic situation from worsening.”
Save the Children is working across the Sahel to help children and families affected by crises, supporting them with nutritious food, health, education and child protection.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Save the Children.