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COVID-19: 50 million people face hunger in West Africa

21 April 2020

The coronavirus pandemic could cause a major increase in food shortages and malnutrition. Oxfam is working to reduce the spread of the coronavirus in Burkina Faso, where 780,000 people are living as IDPs. Many of those forced to flee are women who bear terrible trauma after being attacked by armed groups.

Portrait of Mariam, an internally displaced person in Kaya, Burkina Faso.

Photo: Sylvain Cherkaoui

When armed groups started attacking the area near the town of Dablo in 2018, Mariam and her family were forced to flee. Since then, she lives with hundreds of thousands of internal refugees in Kaya camp.
"When the attacks by armed groups became more frequent, I preferred to escape so as not to become another victim of violence and rape."


Agriculture affected

Agriculture represents 30.5% of the West African economy and is the main source of income for 70-80% of the population. Many farmers are already suffering economically in the crisis, including due to difficulties in obtaining seeds and fertilizers.

"We have lost 75% of our market since the closure of the city of Bobo Dioulasso. This situation is unbearable because we can no longer afford to pay our 13 employees and our suppliers," says Toe Hazara, who works at the Café Rio dairy in Burkina Faso.

Food producers are struggling to keep going, but their jobs and incomes are under threat in the current crisis. Food prices in the region are rising rapidly and many food items have become more difficult to obtain due to restrictions such as curfews, border closures and insecurity in some areas. In Burkina Faso, for example, the price of cooking oil has doubled in just a few days. Animal feed has also become more expensive.

The coronavirus crisis combined with conflict and insecurity exacerbates the threat to market stability and the already very precarious food situation in the region. In countries that were already facing humanitarian crises, access to food has now become difficult.

Now several leaders from agricultural organizations are joining forces with NGOs and calling on all governments to control prices, ensure that food can be transported across borders, but also to provide support to the most vulnerable.