WFP Kicks off Major Lean Season Response in West Africa Amid Dwindling Funding for Humanitarian Operations

Published June 20, 2024

DAKAR – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is ramping up its lifesaving food and nutrition assistance program 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 program – 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 the U.N. World Food Programme will target as part of the program could expand to 12 million people if adequate funding allows. But dwindling resources available for humanitarian operations means that despite near-record level needs, the U.N. World Food Programme 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 5.

“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, the U.N. World Food Programme’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.

The U.N. World Food Programme’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, the U.N. World Food Programme 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, the U.N. World Food Programme’s integrated resilience program 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 program has rehabilitated more than 700,000 acres of degraded land across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, reducing vulnerabilities and building resilience for 4 million people in over 3,000 villages. The program links watershed planning and land rehabilitation to school meals, nutritional support and help to small-scale farmers.

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

In Chad, the U.N. World Food Programme 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 prioritized and expanded as humanitarian response alone is financially not sustainable and does not address the root causes of hunger and malnutrition.

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The United Nations World Food Programme is the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and the world’s leading humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

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