The war in Ukraine plunged the Sahel into a serious food crisis

Summer will be disastrous. There will be queues of children waiting for treatment in front of the centers, and many will die.”, warns Guillaume Leduc, European director of the emergency medical NGO ALIMA. In the face of shortages due to the war in Ukraine and two years after the health crisis, the number of malnourished children has increased in the Sahel (West Africa region). To save as many children as possible from malnutrition, the team developed a method published in the journal Lancet Global Health, doubling or even tripling the number of young patients treated. But its implementation requires strong financial and institutional support.

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The most vulnerable population in the world

The milk was almost running out, so I had to give my baby other foods. Often he refused to eat it and lost weight. Diarrhea soon worsened his condition“, says Sfiato, who was forced to flee his village due to violence in Burkina Faso. Conflict, drought, epidemics and poverty have long plagued the Sahel, a region that crosses Africa from Senegal in the west to South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the east and south.”Before the Covid-19 crisis, it was already a permanent state of emergency in the Sahel”, photographs Kevin Phelan, ALIMA Nutrition Expert. Since 2009, the international medical NGO ALIMA (Alliance for International Medical Action) based in Dakar (Senegal) has partnered with local care, research and intervention structures to support the most vulnerable populations on the planet .

In Chad, a mother looks at her child in hospital due to malnutrition. Credits: Andrew Caballero Reynolds/Alima.

In 2020, the spread of the Covid-19 virus has sent thousands of families over the edge. Since then, the number of people experiencing starvation has tripled in the five worst-affected countries (Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali), rising from 3.6 million to 10 million. Like Safiato’s child, many children lack food: in 2022, 6.3 million aged 6 months to 5 years will suffer from acute malnutrition in the Sahel, compared to 4.9 the previous year. Thus, the effects of the Corona virus mayReversing more than two decades of poverty reduction efforts in Africa”, as estimated by the 2021 Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) report.

“The lean period is approaching in the Sahel. Millions of people are pushing to the limits of survival. In Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger, the situation has reached alarming levels. There is no time to lose. We must act now to save lives.” Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator for the United Nations, wrote on Twitter on May 19, 2022.

After Covid-19, the war in Ukraine has exacerbated the situation

The war in Ukraine in early 2022 is pushing this point home, adding scarcity and inflation to an already unsustainable situation. “The resulting shortfall in global supplies could drive up global food and feed prices by 8-22%Already at the end of 2021, the Food Crisis Prevention Network (RPCA) has noticed an increase in the prices of staple foods in West Africa compared to their average price 5 years ago, such as maize (+ 30 %), millet (+26%), sorghum (+24%) or rice (+18%).

Deficiencies and cost increases are also likely to affect the availability of the primary product typically used to combat child malnutrition by the local centers with which ALIMA is associated. These RUTFs are large packets containing a highly nutritious paste made with milk, peanuts, beans, sugar, oil and vitamins. Clearly, the amount of RUTF available is an important issue in the fight against malnutrition. While the crisis remains, ALIMA has sought to do more with existing resources.

New protocol to treat 2 to 3 times more children

In Niger, a child’s arm circumference is checked for malnutrition. Credits: Alexandre Bono/Alema.

To understand this, you need to know that ready-made therapeutic treatments are given to children whose arm circumference (arm thickness) indicates moderate to severe malnutrition, in an amount that depends on their weight. “But with the current protocol, the weight and therefore the amount of product given increases when the child takes the RUTF and recovers.“To better allocate the quantities of available RUTF, notes Kevin Phelan, Alema recently tested the OPTIMA protocol in several areas of the Sahel.”The idea is to gradually reduce the amount of RUTF given as the child gets better. It’s a success, it was published in Lancet Global Health. “This protocol makes it possible to treat up to 3 times more children with the same amount of RUTF‘, rejoices Kevin Phelan. It has yet to be approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, whose recommendations are closely followed, and the ministries of health in every African country involved.This is exactly the goal of ALIMA and its partners (Action contre la Faim, UNICEF and IRC), during a regional conference on Simplified Approaches to Acute Malnutrition, organized on 15-16 June 2022 in Dakar.

summer is coming “disastrous”

The issue is very urgent. “June begins three months of peak malnutrition, to which is added the peak of malaria.By the time the fall harvest season resumes, summer 2022 begins,” warns Kevin Phelan.disastrousGuillaume Leduc supports, long lines of vulnerable children wait in front of care centers.Only 25% of the world’s malnourished children receive care today. This is not good, imagine if we had these numbers in France for Covid. ”

In Chad, Nobalia Mesikit, a feeding assistant with Alima for 6 years, looks after baby Abdallah Omar, 4 months, accompanied by his grandmother Habiba El Hilli. The mother died shortly after giving birth. “The children are there when we have no means to take care of them, and there is no milk to give them,” cries the grandmother, who also took care of three children for one of her dead daughters. Two years of poor rains prevented them from storing their millet and okra crops. Credits: Adrienne Surprenant/ALIMA

But in the faceUnpublished numbers are very worrying“Money is low.”It will take 6 billion euros to meet current needs, of which only 13% are funded today“, worries Guillaume Leduc. As the world’s largest humanitarian crisis unfolds, the difference in the handling of the Ukrainian crisis by the international community is evident. “The resources deployed to Ukraine in just a few weeks contrast sharply with the underfunding of many humanitarian crises, particularly in Africa. Ukraine is the right level of solidarity and care, it should be the standard of response to all crises, everywhere else”, confirms Momouni Kinda, General Manager of ALIMA.

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