Food Insecurity Threatens 15% of Africans—WFP

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By Adedapo Adesanya

The socioeconomic situation of the urban poor in Sub-Saharan Africa has worsened following the COVID-19 pandemic, with millions of people facing acute food insecurity and malnutrition, according to a new report by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UNHABITAT) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

The new report shines a spotlight on urban vulnerabilities and food insecurity amidst the global pandemic, revealing that the urban poor in Africa has been disproportionately affected.

The analysis reveals that the urban poor often relies on the informal economy, live in overcrowded settlements, and have limited access to basic social services including water, sanitation and health and formal social safety nets.

Moreover, urban livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa are less diversified, irregular, unstable and are predominantly informal and more reliant on markets and the cash economy.

In this context, the loss of income combined with price surges due to COVID-19 containment measures, and the closure of informal markets on which the urban poor rely for a large part of their food supplies, have all undermined their ability to access nutritious foods.

While the pandemic has affected all segments of society, urban poor living in slums and informal settlements, who make up more than 60 per cent of the total population of Sub-Saharan Africa, were particularly hard hit, with over 90 per cent of the COVID-19 cases recorded in cities.

An estimated 68.1 million women, men and children among the urban population were at risk of acute food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2020.

This includes 22 million in Central Africa, 16 million in West Africa, 15.7 million in East Africa and 14.4 million in Southern Africa, representing 15 per cent of the total urban populations in the region.

According to Mr Chris Nikoi, WFP’s Regional Director for Western Africa, “Hunger and malnutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa have long been associated with rural areas. But the pandemic is revealing the changing face of hunger, exposing vulnerabilities of the urban poor.

“This report is a wake-up call for us all to boost urban food security, sustainable livelihoods, including social protection, in order to empower the urban poor and make them more resilient to shocks,” he added.

Mr Oumar Sylla, Director, UNHABITAT Regional Office for Africa called on governments to prioritize and enhance social protection systems and to upgrade basic social services to urban populations, particularly for those living in slum areas and informal settlements.

“Considering the current trends of urbanization that are largely driven by those migrating from the rural to the urban in search for economic opportunities and better access to services, food assistance programmes must be augmented and tailored to meet the needs of the urban poor, many of whom have no access to formal social insurance systems.

“With the number of Africa’s urban population projected to increase to 1.5 billion by 2050, collaborations in policy design, implementation and assessments across governments and agencies that work on health, WASH and social welfare is ultimately necessary to enhance programming and address multiple dimensions of urban deprivations,” Mr Sylla added.

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