Violent attacks by extremists “almost every day” in the Sahel nations Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso displaced nearly a million people and caused emergency levels of malnutrition according to UN humanitarian officials.
Warning of an impending humanitarian crisis, the World Food Programme (WFP) said if nothing is done to tackle hunger in the region, an entire generation could be at risk.
Burkina Faso is worst hit, with a third of the country now a conflict zone.
On Monday, just over the border in eastern Mali, more than 20 soldiers were killed in an attack while on patrol by militants, the latest deadly attack linked to extremists who exploit ethnic tensions and poor infrastructure.
According to government data, nearly half a million people are displaced in Burkina Faso and is likely to reach 650 000 before year-end.
“A dramatic human crisis is unfolding in Burkina Faso that has disrupted the lives of millions. Close to half a million people have been forced from their homes and a third of the country is now a conflict zone,” said WFP executive director, David Beasley. “Our teams on the ground are seeing malnutrition levels well past emergency thresholds – this means young children and new mothers are on the brink. If the world is serious about saving lives, the time to act is now.”
David Bulman, WFP Country Director in Burkina Faso, said with extremists moving freely across borders, it was now a “three-country crisis” leading civilians to flee.
“Those populations that don’t particularly notice the border, they see the safest route away from insecurity and they take it. When they’re displaced it means they basically leave everything and most of them are farming and animal raising so they are really dependent.”
WFP has helped 2n6 million people with food and nutrition assistance in the three Sahel countries, it warns in some areas, acute malnutrition is skyrocketing and affecting “thousands” of children, Bulman said.
Among those displaced in Burkina Faso, levels of severe acute malnutrition are more than three times the emergency threshold of two percent of the population, just on eight percent.
For general acute malnutrition, the highest level registered by WFP was 19.7 percent, exceeding the 15 percent emergency threshold.