Food shortages and a jihadist uprising in northern Burkina Faso risk plunging the region into a humanitarian crisis if urgent action is not taken according to aid agencies.
Much of West Africa’s Sahel, a semi-arid belt below the Sahara, is facing its worst hunger in years after erratic rains saw little vegetation growth.
Nearly a million people in Burkina Faso are expected to need food aid in coming months, with one in ten already suffering acute malnutrition in the north, government statistics show.
Escalating violence will make it difficult for aid agencies to help in the remote area north of Ouagadougou, the Red Cross and the United Nations said.
“There is no optimistic scenario,” Christian Munezero, head of mission for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Attacks by Ansarul Islam, a militant group founded by a radical preacher in 2016, are becoming increasingly frequent and deadly, the International Crisis Group said this month.
More than 18,000 people fled their homes since September and countless clinics closed, said Munezero.
Dozens of schools, frequently targeted, have also shut, said the United Nations children’s agency (UNICEF).
“I think this population has a pretty strong capacity for resilience, which would have allowed them in one way or another to cope with climate shock, if there weren’t the additional factor of insecurity,” said Munezero.
Normally the Sahel experiences a hungry season between July and the October harvest. This year it has already started or is imminent in most places, said World Food Programme (WFP) regional director Abdou Dieng.
“The longer we wait, the more the situation will deteriorate,” he said from Ouagadougou.
“If we don’t act now, it may get complicated.”
Up to 6.8 million people across the Sahel could need food aid by August, the United Nations said this week, a 60% increase from the number estimated late last year.
WFP will start giving out food and cash next month in Burkina Faso, on a larger scale than in recent years, Dieng said.
Neighbouring Mali is also facing food shortages and jihadist attacks, but has been for years.
“What is distinctive about Burkina Faso is this is a new situation for everyone,” said Munezero.