Hunger crisis in the Central Sahel

The Central Sahel has been plagued by an unprecedented humanitarian crisis for close to a decade. Most of the underlying drivers of this crisis are likely to aggravate further, 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 due to the combined effect of protracted conflict, climate change, and global crisis.

According to OCHA, 6.3 million people were food insecure in the region as of October 2023, including 3.3 million in Burkina Faso, 1.7 million in Niger and 1.3 million in Mali. For the first time in Burkina Faso’s history, more than 40,000 people were on the brink of starvation during the last lean season, affected by unprecedented levels of food insecurity.

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 (the practice of moving livestock from one grazing ground to another) 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, climate change and global crisis are other key contributing factors to the hunger crisis in the Central Sahel.

In Burkina Faso, youth leader Floriane is supporting food crisis and conflict-hit displaced women. Watch her testimony on YouTube.

How are girls and women affected?

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. 

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, early and forced marriage and sexual exploitation.

Due to the crisis, girls and women are also forced to move away from their environment to fetch water and food and earn enough to support their families, exposing themselves to the worst forms of violence, including physical and sexual violence.

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.

Head of household Hamssetou supports her family using cash transfer

In a displacement camp in Mali, 33-year-old Hamssetou has started a soap making business to support her family.

She has used some of the money provided by Plan International to vulnerable women through cash transfers so that they can meet their basic needs and earn an income.

How is Plan International responding?

Plan International and its partners implement programmes in the most vulnerable communities in the Central Sahel to help protect girls by empowering them and safeguarding 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:

  • Food security and nutrition
  • Support to livelihoods and income-generating activities
  • Cash and voucher assistance
  • School feeding
  • Peace and social cohesion.

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

Hunger-affected children are more vulnerable to being exploited by armed groups. But there is hope. Follow Issa’s and Abdou’s story on YouTube.

What action is required from stakeholders?

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.

Active and continuous mobilisation of international public opinion, governments, and donors is highly needed.

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.

As of October 2023, the humanitarian response plans in Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali were only 42%, 33%, and 25% funded according to OCHA.

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