Hunger crisis in the Central Sahel

The Central Sahel has been plagued by a humanitarian crisis for close to a decade. Most of the underlying drivers of this crisis are likely to aggravate further in 2023, and will worsen the hunger crisis in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger.

Plan International is supporting the most vulnerable children affected by the hunger crisis in the region.

How many people are affected?

In the Central Sahel, dire projections of mass food insecurity are materialising.

More than 9.7 million people are food insecure in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, as of December 2022, and 600,000 children are already suffering from acute malnutrition. 

If this situation is not urgently addressed, 25,500 people will experience catastrophic hunger in June-August 2023 in conflict-affected areas of the Central Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin.

Despite a dramatic and rapidly deteriorating situation, the humanitarian response in the Central Sahel remains largely insufficient, with lack of funding, problems with access, and weak coordination.

What are the main causes?

In Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, starvation of civilians is used as a method of warfare. 

The non-state armed groups increasingly target people’s resources and sources of income, looting and destroying crops, stealing livestock and extorting money from already vulnerable communities.

The conflict also has disrupted food systems. Markets are no longer functional or operate at a slower pace, making it difficult to access basic foodstuffs and income.

Farming and transhumance have been significantly affected by the conflict, compromising the livelihoods of millions of people, the vast majority of whom are farmers and herders.

Massive population displacement, socio-political instability and climate change are other key contributing factors to the hunger crisis in the Central Sahel.

How are girls and women affected?

When food is scarce, girls often eat less and eat last.

Not only do they have access to less food, but they often bear the brunt when families resort to negative coping strategies. Girls are most likely to be removed from school and are most at risk of child labour, child, early and forced marriage and sexual exploitation.

In the Central Sahel, the hunger crisis largely reinforces the violation of girls’ rights in a context of strong prevalence of harmful traditional practices prior to the crisis. 

Girls have unique needs that are overlooked with devastating consequences on their wellbeing, in particular when they live in crisis settings for years.

Valentine from Burkina Faso

The goat breeder undeterred by the hunger crisis

Valentine, 30, is a role model in her community despite her disability. Trained and financially supported by Plan International, she was able to farm livestock to earn an income.

In a displacement camp in Mali, 33-year-old Hamssetou is cutting bars of soap into squares, ready to be sold.

Cash transfers help displaced woman support her family

Plan International provides conflict-affected and internally displaced women with cash transfers so they can meet their basic needs and earn an income. In a displacement camp in Mali, 33-year-old Hamssetou has used some of her money to start a soap making business to support her family.

How is Plan International responding?

We implement programmes in the most vulnerable communities in the Central Sahel to help protect girls by empowering them and safeguarding their futures.

Plan International and its partners respond to the current crisis while working with communities to build their futures.

Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger are experiencing similar crises with the same root causes. Our cross-sectoral, regional approach allows us to respond to this crisis in a holistic way and to coordinate our actions by pooling efforts and expertise. Our response plan includes:

  • Nutrition
  • Food security
  • Cash and voucher assistance
  • School feeding
  • Social cohesion.

Our response in the Central Sahel is focused on working with communities and especially youth, national governments and partners. Our local partnerships allow us to operate in areas with high security challenges.

What action is required from stakeholders?

Unlike in other parts of the world, states and communities in the Central Sahel do not have the capacity to cope with shocks and rely heavily on international solidarity.

To date, programmes and funding for the humanitarian response in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger have failed to address most of the challenges faced by vulnerable populations, particularly women and girls, as the hunger crisis worsens.

As of December 2022, the humanitarian response plans in Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali were only 52%, 38%, and 37% funded respectively.

Early recovery and resilience responses are the least funded, risking to turn back the clock on overall human development and human rights gains made over the past decade, including in girls’ rights and gender equality.