Above-average rainfall and devastating flooding across West and Central Africa has affected five million people in 19 countries across the region, claiming hundreds of lives, upending livelihoods, displacing tens of thousands from their homes, and decimating over a million hectares of cropland – in a region already in the grips of an unprecedented hunger crisis. This climate-related disaster is one of the deadliest the region has seen in years and is likely to deepen the already worrisome hunger situation for millions.
The floods hit West Africa as world leaders prepare to meet on the climate crisis at COP27 in Egypt and highlight the urgent need to help communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis adapt, expand solutions that address loss and damage incurred during climate-related disasters, and invest in climate action in fragile contexts.
“Families in West Africa have already been pushed to the limit in the wake of the conflict, the socio-economic fallout from the pandemic, and skyrocketing food prices. These floods act as a misery multiplier and are the final straw for communities already struggling to keep their heads above water,” said Chris Nikoi, the UN World Food Programme (WFP)’s Regional Director for Western Africa.
“WFP is on the ground helping flood-hit families get back on their feet by providing an immediate response package, while also helping to build community resilience to future shocks and pave a pathway out of this catastrophic situation,” Nikoi added.
The short-term meteorological forecasts indicate above-average seasonal rainfall across the Western Africa region (except southern coastal areas), with a risk of flooding affecting people and further driving up humanitarian needs. A confluence of calamities already left 43 million people facing crisis and emergency (IPC/CH phases 3+4) levels of food insecurity during the June-August lean season.
In response, WFP is on the ground providing a three-month emergency assistance package targeting 427,000 flood-hit women, men, and children in critically affected countries including the Central African Republic, Chad, the Gambia, Nigeria, Sao Tome & Principe, and Sierra Leone. WFP also provides post-flood response mainly targeting smallholder farmers whose crops have been destroyed.
WFP’s emergency food assistance is provided in the form of food and cash disbursements helping affected families meet their basic food and nutrition needs at a time when food prices are skyrocketing, already pushing basic meals out of reach for vulnerable families.
In many countries across the region, food prices are still on the rise compared to the 5-year average. Maize prices, for example, rose by 106%, 78%, and 42% respectively in Ghana, Niger, and Nigeria. In Burkina Faso, sorghum prices increased by 85%. In Mauritania, wheat is up by 49%, while in Sierra Leone, imported rice is up by a staggering 87%. The spiraling food, fuel, and fertilizer prices not only aggravate the hunger crisis but also foment socio-economic tensions – as governments struggle to respond to the crisis due to heavy debt burdens and limited fiscal space.
In addition to responding to the immediate needs of flood-hit communities, WFP is implementing an Anticipatory Action program that helps build the capacity of governments and partners. This includes setting up early warning systems to better prepare for climate extremes when they take place and providing funding opportunities to avert or mitigate the impacts of imminent extreme weather events. In August, WFP activated its Anticipatory Action in Niger targeting 200,000 at-risk people with early warning messages and advisory information.
“Strengthening resilience and promoting climate adaptation is an essential part of anticipating climate hazards, restoring degraded ecosystems, and protecting vulnerable communities against the impact of climate extremes,” Nikoi noted.
In arid lands across the Sahel, WFP’s focus is on building local resilience to the cascading effects of the climate crisis, by promoting farming techniques that help restore degraded lands and ecosystems. WFP supports communities in building rainwater catchment systems and other sustainable water storage options that allow farmers to plant fruits and vegetables even after the riverbeds dry up.
WFP also implements a climate risk insurance scheme that improves African governments’ management of climate risks. In 2022, WFP disbursed US$ 9.4 million from the African Risk Capacity (ARC) Replica for the implementation of an early response plan in Mauritania, Mali, and Burkina Faso following the 2021 drought.
To ensure that WFP’s flood-response program can effectively assist affected communities, WFP requires US$ 15 million through March 2023.