YAOUNDE, Cameroon

Some 3.3 million people are facing acute food insecurity in Burkina Faso during the current lean season, the period which precedes the harvest in September, two UN agencies said in a statement on Thursday.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) said urgent and sustained assistance is needed to address worsening food and nutrition insecurity in the West African country, which is also struggling with militant attacks and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The statement said most people at risk are subsistence farmers and livestock herders.

“We’re seeing an alarming deterioration in food security across the worst-hit parts of the country,” said David Bulman, WFP country director.

“We need to take immediate action to reverse this trend in the two provinces. It would be nothing short of a disaster were a whole generation to be crushed by conflict, displacement, and hunger,” Bulman added.

Experts say the crisis has been exacerbated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on people’s ability to earn money to cover their daily needs in a country already reeling from conflict and climate change, according to the statement.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is further exacerbating a crisis that was already deteriorating at a worrying pace, pushing more and more people into severe food crisis and acute food insecurity,” said Dauda Sau, FAO representative in Burkina Faso.

“We can reverse this trend if we act now by supporting the government to protect livelihoods, rapidly increase local food production and availability, and support rural populations to access food,” Sau said.

Many of those worst affected have been displaced from their homes by fighting in the region, according to the statement.

Earlier this week, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said the number of internally displaced people in Burkina Faso soared from 87,000 in January 2019 to over one million in August 2020 — an increase of more than 1,000 %.

“Schools and healthcare facilities are regularly targeted by armed groups, making access to healthcare impossible while COVID-19 continues to spread. Sixteen schools were burnt to the ground in the east of the country since 27 July, jeopardising the next school year for 3,000 children,” it said.

In June this year, NRC said Africa’s Sahel Region saw extreme violence this year, ”yet with massively underfunded aid appeals.”

Niger and Burkina Faso appeared on the list of 10 most-neglected crises across the globe for the first time.

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