5 million in Africa’s Sahel region facing hunger amid virus

World Food Programme says the consequences of the world turning away will be catastrophic. (Reuters pic)

DAKAR: More than five million people in Africa’s conflict-ravaged Sahel region are facing hunger, the World Food Programme said Thursday, just as the novel coronavirus is spreading into affected countries.

In a statement, the WFP called the situation in Sahel nations Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger “extremely worrying,” and warned that the humanitarian crisis is “spiralling out of control”.

The three countries are among the poorest in the world and all are struggling to contain jihadist insurgencies that have killed thousands of people.

There are also fears that their fragile healthcare systems and endemic conflict puts them at particular risk of coronavirus outbreaks.

“Our message to the world is clear – look away now and the consequences will be no less than catastrophic,” said Chris Nikoi, WFP’s West Africa director.

According to the WFP, rising food insecurity Burkina Faso is particularly severe.

Some 2.1 million people will face food insecurity in the West African state by June, it said, up from over 680,000 at the same time last year.

Burkina Faso has recorded 288 confirmed coronavirus cases to date, according to an AFP tally, 16 of which have been fatal.

Neighbouring Mali and Niger are in a similar predicament.

Some 1.3 million people are facing hunger in conflict-ridden Mali, as well as some 2 million people in Niger.

The WFP said it needed US$208 million through August to continue food aid, with the number of people driven from their homes by conflict in the Sahel growing.

It also warned that displaced people “now rely almost entirely on external assistance to survive”.

Mali has recorded 31 coronavirus cases, according to an AFP tally, while Niger has recorded 74.

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