The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) kicks off major lean season response in West Africa amid dwindling funding for humanitarian operations

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) kicks off major lean season response in West Africa amid dwindling funding for humanitarian operations

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) kicks off major lean season response in West Africa amid dwindling funding for humanitarian operations

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) kicks off major lean season response in West Africa amid dwindling funding for humanitarian operations

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is ramping up its lifesaving food and nutrition assistance programme in West and Central Africa, targeting 7.3 million people during the ongoing June-August lean season – when food stocks run out and hunger peaks. The programme – which kicks off in June – supports national governments’ lean season response plans in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Nigeria.

The number of people WFP will target as part of the programme could expand to 12 million people if adequate funding allows. But dwindling resources  available for humanitarian operations means that despite near-record level needs, WFP has been forced to assist less people than originally planned.  

West and Central Africa is in the grips of a severe food security and nutrition crisis – with nearly 55 million people projected to face acute hunger during the June-August lean season – a fourfold increase on the 12.6 million people facing acute hunger in 2019. Malnutrition has also reached extraordinary levels, with an estimated 17 million acutely malnourished children under five.

“The alarming hunger crisis in the region underscores the urgent need for transformative solutions to help vulnerable families meet not only their immediate food needs but also build a brighter future,” said Chris Nikoi, WFP’s Regional Director for Western Africa.  

“We need to continue prioritizing emergency response for those most in need. But we need more investment in sustainable solutions to help strengthen food security, improve agricultural productivity, purchasing power of families at the right time, and cushioning economic and climate shocks,” Nikoi added. 

The hunger and nutrition crisis in West and Central Africa is driven by the intertwined impacts of conflicts, high food prices, and the impacts of the climate crisis. Economic shocks linked to market disruptions, high inflation and weakened economic activities, depreciating national currencies and increasing costs of fuel and agricultural inputs have inflicted a significant toll on people – particularly in Nigeria, Ghana, and Sierra Leone. 

WFP’s lean season response aims to meet the immediate food and nutrition needs of those most exposed to acute hunger – including refugees, the most vulnerable displaced people, severely food insecure people, and people in blockaded areas adversely impacted by climatic, economic and security crises.

While the crises continue to increase in magnitude, frequency, and complexity in the region, funding to respond has not kept apace – leaving even some of those facing the most acute needs without assistance. As a result, millions of food insecure families are left without assistance, and at risk of sliding further into the most severe levels of hunger next year.

This is especially worrying as the 2024 seasonal forecasts paint a grim picture of both dry spells and floods in parts of the region, potentially disrupting farming and livestock productivity, prolonging the next lean season, and exacerbating the vulnerability of hard-hit communities.

“The escalation of humanitarian needs far outstrips available resources. The only way out of this cycle is to prioritize as well durable solutions,” Nikoi insisted.

In West and Central Africa, WFP supports long-term transformative hunger solutions and is committed to strengthening government systems that build communities’ resilience to shocks, through social protection and inclusive food systems investments. Since 2018, WFP’s integrated resilience programme across the Sahel has helped restore degraded lands to food and fodder production, support children’s education, improve access to food, and boost incomes.

This integrated resilience programme has rehabilitated more than 290,000 hectares of degraded land across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, reducing vulnerabilities and building resilience for four million people in over 3,000 villages. The programme links watershed planning and land rehabilitation to school meals, nutritional support and help to smallholder farmers. 

Among families benefitting from WFP’s integrated resilience programme, meals have become more regular, frequent, and diversified, despite multiple and recurrent shocks. In 2022 and 2023, 83 percent of Nigerien villages (home to 560,000 people) in the most food-insecure communes, prioritised by the government for lean season response did not require humanitarian assistance, saving US$54 million in the government’s National Response Plan.

In Chad, WFP and partners are supporting the government’s visionary initiative of “One family, one hectare,” which aims to help 500,000 host and refugee populations through access to land and livelihood opportunities, so they can feed themselves today while planning for a brighter future.

Such initiatives including strengthening poor families’ purchasing power with timely shock-responsive social protection schemes, need to be prioritised and expanded as humanitarian response alone is financially not sustainable and does not address the root causes of hunger and malnutrition.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Food Programme (WFP).