The number of people requiring urgent food aid in 16 countries across Africa's Sahel region more than doubled this year to some 9.4 million amid an increase in violence and insecurity, officials and experts said Monday.
Three countries - Nigeria, Niger and Burkina Faso - are facing crisis conditions, at phase three of five on the scale used by the Food Crisis Prevention Network, which includes government and United Nations representatives as well as NGOs.
At least 9.4 million people are estimated to be in immediate need of assistance in October-December 2019 in the 16 countries analysed (excluding Liberia), including 4 million in Nigeria, 1.5 million in Niger and 1.2 million in Burkina Faso.
"By June-August 2020, 14.4 million people are projected to be in a crisis situation or worse, including 1.2 million in an emergency situation (phase 4)," the network said in a statement issued during its annual meeting in Paris.
"Civil insecurity has deteriorated this year in Mali, Burkina Faso and Nigeria," said Mahalmoudou Hamadoun of the Permanent Interstate Committee for drought control in the Sahel.
"So these mainly rural populations cannot ensure their means of subsistence, agriculture or animal raising, even as they continue to be affected by climate change," he said.
The vast expanse of the Sahel along the southern rim of the Sahara is extremely vulnerable to drought, even as birthrates surge across the region.
Attacks by jihadist insurgents against police and other government targets, along with inter-ethnic fighting, are also adding to the strains on local populations.
"Entire villages have been displaced in Burkina Faso, schools and health clinics are closed -- people don't have the possibility of staying in their homes," said Sibiri Jean Zoundi, head of the Sahel Club at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.