One in five facing hunger in Africa as malnutrition worsens

Families facing hunger

A family stands outside their makeshift housing in the Loiyangalani area where families affected by the prolonged drought are hosted, at Parapul village, in Marsabit, northern Kenya, on July 11, 2022.  At least 18 million people across the Horn of Africa are facing severe hunger as the worst drought in 40 years devastates the region.

Photo credit: AFP

One in five people in Africa is facing hunger, the latest data show, as food shortages and malnutrition rise on the continent, African Union (AU) and United Nations officials have said.

The two bodies have called for urgent interventions, with the situation bound to get worse due to prolonged drought, wars on the continent and beyond.

"Africa is no doubt facing one of the most alarming food crises in decades," Josefa Sacko, AU commissioner for Agriculture, told a recent high-level food and nutrition conference in Addis Ababa.

He noted that the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict had exacerbated food insecurity and poverty in Africa given that Russia and Ukraine are major sources of wheat and sunflower for Africa.

Increasing frequency and severity of climate shocks and regional conflicts, he said, have also disrupted food production and distribution, driving up costs.

Africa is burdened by food insecurity, with about 278 million of its people suffering from chronic hunger, said Abebe Haile-Gabriel, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) assistant director-general and regional representative for Africa.

"More than a billion people in Africa cannot afford a healthy diet," said Haile-Gabriel, citing the latest report co-authored by the FAO.

He warned that Africa is moving backwards in its efforts to deal with hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition, with an additional 46 million people going hungry over the last two years due to multiple and overlapping shocks.

These include climate change, protracted conflict and excessive dependence on imports of basic commodities such as seeds and fertilisers.

Recent estimates for Africa show that chronic hunger affected 278 million in 2021, which corresponds to 20 percent of its population, according to the report.

The heightened level of food insecurity and malnutrition is projected to worsen this year, driven by conflicts, high levels of poverty, climate shocks, environmental degradation and low agricultural productivity, according to a concept note released at the conference.

Arable land

Food demand on the continent is also growing at an average rate of three percent per year as the continent's population grows at nearly the same rate.

Africa’s population is likely to double to an estimated 2.4 billion by 2050, the officials said.

The conference highlighted that the continent has become a net importer of food, buying an estimated 40 percent of its nutritional needs from abroad yet it possesses a big chunk of the global share of arable land.

According to the officials, the Addis conference sought to find urgent solutions to the food crisis on the continent by mobilising institutional and political commitments and raising awareness and generating consensus among stakeholders.

"We need to act with urgency and at scale in responding to the current food insecurity and nutrition crisis unfolding in Africa and avert humanitarian suffering," Mr Sacko said.

Meanwhile, drought-related displacements ballooned to more than 1.17 million in Somalia between January 2021 and September 2022, the United Nations has said.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said some 68,393 people were displaced by drought in September, a three percent increase from the previous month.

The UN agency said new arrivals had been observed in the Bay region (26 percent) followed by Gedo, Banadir, and Bakool at 14 percent, 11 percent and 11 percent, respectively.

"The significant flow of arrivals in Bay is a continuation of a displacement trend that was first observed in July, when [that] region received 40 percent of new arrivals, compared to only 2 percent in June," the OCHA said in its drought displacement monitoring report released this week in Mogadishu.

OCHA said the increase in displacements from and within the Bay region happened against the backdrop of a famine projected to occur in two districts, Baidoa and Burhakaba, between October and December 2022 unless humanitarian assistance is rapidly scaled up.

Somalia faces a two-year historic dry spell that has not been seen in more than 40 years, the UN says.

This, coupled with the expected fifth failed rainy season, is bound to displace many more families amid a looming famine in some parts of the country.

"Even though the proportion of new arrivals observed per region has changed this month, the patterns of places of origin per region have remained consistent," the OCHA said.

It said the majority of new arrivals in Bay originated in that region, so the movements were intra-regional, while the remaining 17 percent came from the Bakool region.

The UN projects that famine will become a reality in parts of the country during the October-December season unless life-saving assistance is urgently ramped up to reach the people most in need.

About 7.8 million Somalis are affected by the worst drought in four decades, with more than one million displaced, including nearly 99,000 uprooted from homes by drought in August, the UN says.

The last famine in Somalia was declared just over 10 years ago in 2011 and killed an estimated 250,000 people.