A child is screened for malnutrition in Niger, 2018.

Governments Must Not Turn Their Backs on the Sahel, Leading iNGOs Warn

Action Against Hunger, CARE International, Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Oxfam, and Save the Children are raising concerns over the dire and unprecedented situation in the Sahel and the postponement of a donor conference due to take place on June 18. With the impact of COVID-19 and the onset of the lean season, a "hunger pandemic" now threatens a region already hard hit by multiple crises, where an unprecedented 24 million people (included children) are already in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

As violence and massacres continue, forcing more and more people to flee their homes, their needs are huge and pressing, while funding is scarce and slow. Up to 26 percent or less of the humanitarian response plans in the Sahel are funded for the first half of 2020, and in 2019, only half the required funds came in.

"Faced with the urgency of the situation in the Sahel and at a time when the hunger gap between July and August will further worsen the situation for millions of people, the postponement of the donor conference is a further blow that could be fatal for millions of people in the Sahel. Hunger does not wait. The international community cannot abandon the Sahel at a time when people need help the most. We are at a breaking point," the organizations said.

COVID-19 has exacerbated the humanitarian and food crises. 5.5 million people are expected to be food insecure in the Central Sahel during the lean season, 2.5 times higher than the average for the last five years. Countries’ measures to slow the spread of the virus have made it possible to avoid the worst-case scenarios announced at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, for the time being. But they have made people more vulnerable, and especially those already worst off. The measures taken by countries to slow down the pandemic have, for the time being, made it possible to avoid the worst- case scenarios announced at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Kaya, Burkina Faso, in April 2020, internally displaced people (IDP) in Kaya protested in front of the town hall, calling for help. The situation is dramatically worse for women who are depriving themselves of food to save their children, whose health could rapidly deteriorate from lack of food.

"Coronavirus came and changed everything in my life," said 15-year-old Ali, who lives in Niger's Maradi region. "I used to be able to eat at least three times a day, now I can barely eat twice a day. My father doesn't go out much anymore to look for money like he used to,” he said.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has added further pressure to an already untenable situation. The lean season has always been a difficult time for people in the Sahel. But with the current situation, and the added dangers of this season, when the rains will come and increase cases of malaria and cholera, it is a time-bomb. With the current disease and pandemic, access to essential health services and water today is even more essential, and largely lacking," said the organizations.

"This disease scares us. We are told that we need hygiene, but we don't have water, we don't have food," said Zara, an IDP in Kaya. "With the rainy season coming, we will soon need shelter and medicines too,” she said.

"Faced with this unprecedented situation, several heads of state have proclaimed the need to show solidarity with Africa. Today, it must be said that this expression of good will does not translate to effective action. Humanitarian donors urgently need to at least double their humanitarian funding for the Sahel over the next two months," said the organizations.

The international community must support Sahel countries’ efforts to deal with the multiple challenges they face. For 2020, according to OCHA, $2.8 billion is needed in the Sahel to provide vital aid to 24 million people. An extra $638 million has been requested to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Notes to editors:

The Sahel crisis in numbers:

  • The number of victims’ attacks by armed groups has increased fivefold in three years in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. More than 4,000 deaths from this violence were reported in 2019 in these three countries, compared to 770 deaths in 2016 (source: UN).
  • For 2020, according to OCHA, $2.8 billion is needed in the Sahel to provide vital aid to 24 million people. At the end of March 2020, only 13% of Burkina Faso’s response plan was funded.
  • Half of the 24 million people in need of humanitarian assistance are children (source: OCHA).
  • In the Sahel, there are more than 2.5 million internally displaced people, refugees, or repatriated refugees (source: UNHCR). In Burkina Faso alone, there are 921,000 Internally Displaced Persons, 400,000 more than at the beginning of this year (source: CONASUR). In Mali, 99,055 new displacements have been recorded since the beginning of the year (source: RRM / Rapid Response Mechanism).
  • An estimated 5.5 million people are expected to be food insecure in the Central Sahel (Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso) during the lean season, 2.5 times the average for the last five years. The increase is most pronounced in Burkina Faso (+213%) and in Mali (+142%) (source: Analyses of the Harmonized Framework / Cadre Harmonisé, March 2020). The analyses show that the concentration of food insecurity is mainly in the Liptako Gourma area. These figures do not take into account the presumed impact of COVID-19.


Action Against Hunger is the world’s hunger specialist and leader in a global movement that aims to end life-threatening hunger for good within our lifetimes. For more than 40 years, the humanitarian and development organization has been on the front lines, treating and preventing hunger across nearly 50 countries. It served more than 17 million people in 2019 alone.