COVID-19 has deepened a food, education and healthcare crisis affecting the poorest and most vulnerable communities in four countries in West Africa. Nearly 5 million children need help to survive in Nigeria, Mauritania, Niger and Chad, warns Save the Children.
An estimated 4.8 million children under 15 in Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Chad, need help to survive and stay in school. This marks a 60 percent increase since the coronavirus pandemic swept the world.
Save the Children conducted a Household Economic Analysis in all four countries between May and July, just as COVID-19 was beginning to take hold in many parts of the world, including West Africa. Our analysis reveals that families already struggling to put food on the table were forced into difficult choices, like reducing their exposure to coronavirus by staying at home and going hungry, or going out to find work and feeding their families.
The aid agency also observed a dramatic increase in the number of people in need, before and with COVID-19, with the worst-affected countries being Niger (176 percent increase) and Chad (169 percent increase).
Access to healthy and nutritious food is becoming increasingly difficult across the region, with Mauritania seeing a staggering 460 percent increase in food needs to sustain its population. In other words, the amount of support required for a typical family to meet their basic needs has more than quadrupled. Niger and Chad are also in a critical state, with a 201 percent increase and 155 percent increase, respectively, in their food needs.
West and Central Africa Programme Director for Save the Children, Mateo Caprotti said, “Nearly five million children under 14 may not have enough food to meet their daily nutritional needs while their families struggle to make ends meet because of the pandemic. Often in these situations children’s education becomes a casualty. Millions of families across West Africa are being forced to make difficult decisions about buying food or paying for healthcare or education, as they can no longer afford them all. COVID-19 is squeezing an already vulnerable population. It’s vital we don’t forget them.”
Caprotti also said, “The region is now on the brink of a hunger crisis. Without life-saving treatment, many thousands could die from completely preventable and treatable causes. Like in any emergency, children continue to bear the brunt, with millions now struggling to access nutritious food, safe drinking water, healthcare, education and other social services that have been seriously disrupted.”
Health systems are chronically underfunded and now near to collapse, leaving children and their families unable to access adequate medical care when they need it most. All while the risk of disease outbreaks threatens children living in conflict-affected areas where routine vaccinations have been interrupted for several years, and those in overcrowded displacement camps have scarce access to water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.
Ahead of a major international donor conference for the Sahel countries, Save the Children is calling for the urgent scaling up of basic services including the provision of nutritious food and healthcare for vulnerable communities. Failure to act now could lead to hundreds, potentially thousands, of preventable child deaths.