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UN warns nearly 50 million people could face hunger next year in West and Central Africa

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — The United Nations warned on Tuesday that hunger could surge across West and Central Africa next year, primarily driven by violence in the conflict-riddled region.

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — The United Nations warned on Tuesday that hunger could surge across West and Central Africa next year, primarily driven by violence in the conflict-riddled region.

Nearly 50 million people could face food insecurity and more than 2.5 million will be on the brink of starvation, said officials from the U.N., the Food and Agriculture Organization, regional and other groups as they presented the findings in Senegal’s capital, Dakar.

The report is compiled by regional governments, the U.N. and aid groups. While climate change and inflation are contributing factors, the main driver of food insecurity is increasing violence, particularly across the Central Sahel — the vast expanse below the Sahara Desert — which has been hardest hit.

Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger have had five coups in three years, which has led to increased jihadi attacks linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group. The militants were already operating in the area and have capitalized on the political turmoil, taking swaths of land and blockading cities.

“The biggest concern this year is the threat of insecurity," said Martin Naindouba Djerandodje, a regional expert for FAO. He added that if those affected do not get aid, "people could die and the situation (could) get worse.”

The cross-border region between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger is the epicenter of West Africa’s escalating humanitarian crisis, compounded by effects of climate change, severe floods and droughts. The U.N. is targeting more than 10 million people with assistance in the area.

Since the military takeover in Niger in July, jihadi violence has increased while economic, commercial and financial sanctions imposed by the West African regional bloc have made it harder for assistance to enter the country.

In Mali, violence in the north between soldiers accompanied by mercenaries from Russian military contractor Wagner and Tuareg fighters, coupled with the withdrawal of the U.N. peacekeeping mission after more than a decade, has made it harder for relief to get to some cities, aid workers say.

In Burkina Faso, where many places are under siege, aid workers say approximately 1 million people live in areas that are hard to reach. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network said Tuesday that hundreds of thousands in the northern city of Djibo could be at risk of famine after humanitarian cargo flights were suspended in October. Since then, less than 1% of the local population has received food assistance, the network said.

Even when food is available, soaring costs have made it hard for people to buy anything.

“There is no money here. There is no business to do in Djibo to get money, food is very expensive,” Maiga, a Djibo resident who only wanted to use his family name for security reasons, told The Associated Press by phone on Tuesday.

The U.N. says it's unable to meet the soaring needs because of dwindling funds.

Forty percent of people who were food insecure this year did not get aid and those who did received less than 50% of the full rations, said Ollo Sib from the World Food Program.

The U.N. on Monday launched a $7.6 billion appeal to support more than 32 million people across West and Central Africa in dire need. Martin Griffiths, the U.N.'s humanitarian chief, warned that support from the international community is not keeping pace with the needs.

“If we cannot provide more help in 2024, people will pay for it with their lives," he said.

Sam Mednick, The Associated Press