East Africa

Covid, conflict and climate change worsen food insecurity


Summary

  • A new report by humanitarian information source Relief Web shows that the number of hungry people in Africa continues to rise, spurred by conflict, climate change and economic slowdowns.
  • Climate change, characterised by recurring floods and droughts, has also contributed to increased humanitarian need, impacting millions.
  • Nutritional deficiency is to blame for wasting of 12.1 million children in Africa, eight million of whom are in Eastern and Western Africa.
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By AMINA WAKO


Africa is still far from meeting the sustainable development goal to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.

A new report by humanitarian information source Relief Web shows that the number of hungry people in Africa continues to rise, spurred by conflict, climate change and economic slowdowns.

Further, food insecurity is exacerbated by conditions such as poverty, inequality and inappropriate policies.

The report recommends beefing up of humanitarian assistance across board, putting up of social protection measures to improve food security and nutrition and focused investment in agriculture, water, health and education to reduce vulnerabilities.

The report shows that after a long period of improvement between 2000 and 2013, hunger worsened substantially between 2019 and 2020, driven by conflict, climate extremes, economic slowdowns and the unaffordability of healthy diets.

Pandemic effects

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In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic further undermined efforts to reduce hunger and malnutrition in the region as national and global measures to contain the pandemic disrupted economic activities and livelihoods in service sectors such as tourism, remittances, commodity exports, markets and commodity value chains.

As a result, 281.6 million people on the continent were undernourished in 2020, 89.1 million or 46 percent more than in 2014.

Almost half of these (125.1 million) are people living in Eastern Africa while Western Africa had 75.2 million people, Central Africa (57.1 million), Northern Africa (17.4 million) and Southern Africa 6.8 million people.

Conflict in countries such as Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, the Niger and Nigeria has destroyed livelihoods and displaced thousands of people, contributing to food insecurity.

In Sudan, nearly eight million children will require urgent humanitarian assistance this year, according to a new report by World Vision released on January 23. One in every three people (14.4 million) will need humanitarian assistance in the country, most of these in areas affected by conflict such as Darfur, Kordofan and the Blue Nile.

Climate change, characterised by recurring floods and droughts, has also contributed to increased humanitarian need, impacting millions.

It has also impacted other countries in Eastern and Southern Africa.

In Sudan, an estimated 1.2 million refugees from Ethiopia are feeling the effects of extreme weather events.

El-Niño-related drought conditions in 2015/2016 affected many parts of Southern and Eastern Africa, leaving millions of people in need of urgent food assistance.

In 2019 Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe were hit by Cyclone Idai, worsening the already precarious food security situation.

Obesity and stunting

In addition to hunger, millions of Africans suffer from widespread micronutrient deficiencies, while obesity is already a significant public health concern. Africa has 61.4 million stunted children under the age of five years according to the report, with Central Africa being the worst affected followed by Eastern Africa.

No subregion on the continent is on track to meet the revised 2030 World Health Assembly (WHA) target of reducing the number of children under-five who are stunted by 40 percent, although all, except for Central Africa, have made some progress.

In Eastern Africa, stunting prevalence fell between 2012 and 2020 spurred by economic growth and higher incomes, which led to greater spending on health care and diets.

While economic growth can be pro-poor, the report notes that substantial reductions in the prevalence of stunting are possible with high-level political commitment, effective nutrition governance and a focus on maternal and child health and nutrition, particularly in the first 1,000 days of life, as has been the experience in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Sao Tome and Principe and Senegal.

Nutritional deficiency is to blame for wasting of 12.1 million children in Africa, eight million of whom are in Eastern and Western Africa.

Wasting is a state of nutritional deficiency that carries severe health consequences, the most immediate being a heightened risk of mortality.

According to the report, preventing wasting requires addressing the underlying causes of malnutrition, for example through breastfeeding support, nutrition counselling for families and timely care for common childhood illnesses.

On the other hand, the report revealed that 10.6 million children under five years were overweight in 2018, especially in Northern Africa (13 percent) and Southern Africa (12.1 percent).

Addressing childhood obesity requires healthy food environments and appropriate food and nutrition education.

Anaemia epidemic

Up to 122.7 million (or 38.9 percent) women of reproductive age were affected by anaemia in 2019, and no progress has been made since 2012.

The prevalence of anaemia remains generally high, especially in Western Africa (51.8 percent) and Central Africa (40.7 percent).

The report noted that adoption of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended iron and folic acid supplementation, with adjustments for pregnancy and malaria, could help reduce anaemia as would fortifying primary staple foods with iron, folic acid and other micronutrients.

In the short term, countries need to provide humanitarian assistance and adequate social protection measures to improve food security and nutrition.

Over the long term, nations will need to invest in agriculture, water, health and education to reduce vulnerabilities and build capacity to withstand shocks from climate change, conflict and economic downturns.

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