FILE- Malnourished children wait for treatment in the pediatrics department of Boulmiougou hospital in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on April 15, 2022. Hunger is soaring and spreading across West Africa, with some 48 million people, a 10-year-high, facing food insecurity in the conflict-riddled region, the United Nations warned Tuesday April 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Sophie Garcia, File)BY SAM MEDNICK
DAKAR, SENEGAL -- Hunger is soaring and spreading across West Africa, with some 48 million people, a 10-year-high, facing food insecurity in the conflict-riddled region, the United Nations warned Tuesday.
Driven primarily by violence as well as the economic fallout from covid-19 and inflation, food insecurity has heavily affected Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, northern Nigeria and Mauritania, U.N. officials said at a press conference in Senegal's capital, Dakar.
U.N. officials said that for the first time, some 45,000 people in the Sahel region, the arid expanse below the Sahara Desert, are on the brink of starvation, one step away from famine. The vast majority facing catastrophic levels of hunger, 42,000, are in Burkina Faso, the officials reported.
"The situation is worrying," said Ann Defraye, a regional nutrition specialist for UNICEF in West and Central Africa. "Last year, we saw a large increase (31%) in the numbers of children admitted to health facilities with severe wasting across the Sahel. ... In many areas, it is getting much more difficult for families to find nutritious food to eat, especially where we have communities under blockade."
Violence linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group has ravaged both Burkina Faso and Mali for years.
Jihadis have blockaded dozens of villages in the region, cut off access to farms and lined the roads with explosives, making it hard for residents to move freely and forcing aid agencies to fly in food assistance, which is costly.
People living in besieged towns in Burkina Faso say they're struggling to survive.
A few aid groups have managed to provide rice, oil and beans, but women can't grind millet because there's no gas and people can't leave the town because it's surrounded by jihadis, the resident said. He would not give his name for fear of reprisals from speaking publicly.
As civilians flee attacks and militants expand their reach in Burkina Faso, hunger also is spreading across the border to neighboring Togo and Benin.