Triple threat looms over Africa’s rural poor, warns UN agency chief

Triple threat looms over Africa’s rural poor, warns UN agency chief

Africa’s rural poor are facing a “perfect storm” of rising food prices, climate change and population growth, the head of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today, urging the international community to take more concerted action to help the continent’s most vulnerable people.

Africa’s rural poor are facing a “perfect storm” of rising food prices, climate change and population growth, the head of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today, urging the international community to take more concerted action to help the continent’s most vulnerable people.

Wrapping up a four-day visit to Senegal and Mali, WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran told reporters in Dakar that time was running out to build resilience among the millions of rural Africans who often have to go hungry.

WFP operations in West Africa planned from last month to June next year remain under-funded by as much as $168 million overall.

“I have seen in West Africa what havoc could be caused by the triple threat of climate change, rising food prices and population growth,” she said.

“But I have also seen that there are solutions to help people adapt before it is too late. We must help people to protect themselves and their families. It’s a large order, but with the help of the international community we can do it – we must do it.”

The WFP chief said West Africa faces a particularly difficult challenge against the elements as the Sahara Desert creeps further and further south each year, consuming what was once arable land or pastures.

Global commodity prices are also soaring, driven in part by the rising cost of fuels, which means the prices of food staples have surged in poor African countries this year, placing them out of reach of many consumers.

In one example, Mauritania, Ms. Sheeran said the impact of the higher international prices has led to tensions this month and could turn into a food crisis next year unless more funds are pledged by donors.

“High world prices for grains have made our operations more challenging than ever. The overall cost of WFP reaching a hungry person has gone up by 50 per cent in the last five years.”

An estimated 1.5 million children under the age of five in the Sahel region are now classified as acutely malnourished, the highest proportion of any region worldwide. This ‘silent emergency’ kills more than 300,000 children every year and stunts the growth of those who survive.

Ms. Sheeran noted that WFP is working with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to help local communities adapt to climate change, such as by constructing small dams, completing irrigation projects and contribution to schemes that reduce soil erosion or promote reforestation.

But she also observed that continued population growth, combined with low school enrolment rates, is adding to the squeeze on the rural poor across Africa.