Burkina Faso: Number of children facing emergency hunger levels set to surge as rainy season approaches

Insecurity, the approaching lean season between harvests, and rising food prices mean many do not know where their next meal will come from. 

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The number of children in Burkina Faso facing emergency levels of hunger looks set to surge fivefold to about 210,000 by the middle of this year without an urgent injection of food assistance, said Save the Children.

Insecurity, the approaching lean season between harvests, and rising food prices mean many do not know where their next meal will come from.

Latest figures from the Cadre Harmonisé – a regional framework to identify food and nutrition insecurity in the Sahel and West Africa – show that the number of children facing emergency levels of hunger (defined as IPC Phase 4) will more than quintuple from under 40,000 currently.

The report also forecast that 1.4 million children in Burkina Faso – or one in every seven children – will face at least crisis levels of hunger (defined as IPC Phase 3 and beyond) between June and August, the months between harvests when hunger typically peaks. This is an increase of 500,000 from current levels and includes almost 443,000 children aged under 5.

Under the IPC scale, used by the Cadre Harmonisé framework, Phase 3 is a crisis, Phase 4 is an emergency, and Phase 5 is used when the situation is reaching famine-like conditions.

Almost two-thirds of the 210,000 children projected to be facing emergency levels of hunger (IPC Phase 4) live in the Sahel and Nord regions where ongoing conflict has prevented families from accessing their farms.

Attacks on education have prevented children from going to school where many would have otherwise been able to access a meal. As of the end of March, over 5,300 schools in Burkina Faso were closed due to insecurity.

Malnutrition rates across the country also remain alarmingly high with 480,000 children under five and around 131,500 pregnant and breastfeeding women likely to experience high levels of acute malnutrition, including over 113,000 cases of severe acute malnutrition (SAM). SAM is a condition that weakens the immune system and exposes children to other diseases – in some cases doing lifelong developmental harm.

Alima, 18, who was forced to flee her home, had this to say:

“The food crisis affects everyone, but the sad reality is that it’s children who suffer most. We frequently see children forced to work hard, because their parents are unable to provide for their basic needs, including food. Many young girls and children are given away too early to men in the hope that they will help their households get through the food crisis and poverty in general.

“I’ve seen this kind of case in my neighbourhood. A 14-year-old girl whose parents wanted to give her away in marriage to a rich man who works in a gold mine, in the hope of earning enough to meet the family’s basic needs. Fortunately, their school principal objected. If the principal hadn’t intervened, this girl’s future, and perhaps even her life, would have been over.”

Benoit Delsarte, Save the Children’s Country Director for Burkina Faso, said:

“Around 1.4 million children in Burkina are facing a hunger crisis. About one of five them will face extreme levels of hunger as conflict and climate change drive children and families into a truly dire situation.

“As communities try to cope with rising rates of hunger, rising violence and the negative effects of climate change, children are bearing the brunt on all fronts. Families are resorting to extreme measures like pulling their children out of school, as well as child marriage.

“International donors must urgently step up their support for Burkina Faso to prevent an already dire situation from becoming a between June and September. We also need to see increased action on climate change globally which disproportionately affects children in some of the world’s poorest countries, like Burkina Faso.”

Burkina Faso has been wracked by years of conflict, extreme poverty and rising food insecurity. With temperatures in the Sahel rising 1.5 times faster than the global average, it is also at the forefront of the climate crisis, which is having a disastrous impact on crops, food production and the livelihoods of children and families.

Save the Children has been working in Burkina Faso since 1982, with programmes in child health, education, and protection. We work in eight of the country’s 13 regions and focus on addressing malnutrition and food insecurity, promoting school enrolment, particularly for girls, ending child marriage, keeping children safe, and raising awareness of children’s rights.

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