General overview: analysis of the context, crisis, and needs
West and Central Africa faces some of the world's most complex challenges in a context where acute and prolonged crises are deepening and needs deteriorating. The confluence of conflict and violence, deep poverty, demographic pressures, weak governance, chronically high food insecurity, and malnutrition, and the impact of climate change is driving millions to the fringes of survival. In conflict-affected regions, civilians are facing a dramatic protection crisis in an increasingly volatile context.
The compounded impact on the most vulnerable people is devastating and causes persisting, fast-escalating needs. More than 1 person in 10 – over 61 million people – will require assistance and protection in 2022.
Violence and climate shocks are the main drivers of a dramatic food crisis. Farming, trade, and transhumance have been significantly affected, compromising the livelihoods of millions of people. Across the region, more than 58 million people are facing severe food insecurity, almost 15 million more than one year ago, and the highest caseload recorded since 2016. The situation could further escalate as millions of people affected by conflict have little or no access to their land and livelihoods.
Fleeing violence, over 15 million people are uprooted, two million more than one year ago. Insecurity and violence are threatening lives and livelihoods, disrupting access to health, water, sanitation, and hygiene services, depriving violence-affected communities' access to vital services, increasing human rights violations, and jeopardizing social cohesion.
Climate change is threatening already fragile livelihoods and having adverse impacts on security. The scarcity of natural resources, particularly water and pasture, fuels intercommunal tensions and conflicts between herders and farmers. Droughts are becoming more recurrent and severe, and rainfall is irregular and increasingly unpredictable. In 2021, flooding affected over 1.2 million people in 13 countries of the region. Heavy rains and floods take a heavy toll on human life, property, land, and livestock.
Across the Sahel, close to 5.8 million people have been forced to flee their homes, more people than ever before. Large-scale displacement is straining weak services and scarce natural resources. Many of the displaced have also been forced to flee several times, further deepening their vulnerabilities. About 20 million people are acutely food insecure in the Sahel. Since 2015, the number of brutal attacks increased eight-fold in the Central Sahel and tripled in the Lake Chad basin, leading to additional displacement and needs.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR), long-running conflict and protracted crises continue to affect millions of people, with severe protection risks, forced displacement, and high levels of food insecurity. In western Cameroon, violent conflict in the South-West and North-West regions has displaced more than 700,000 people.
As the crisis deepens, an entire generation is affected. The education of millions of children is compromised. Across the Sahel, some 6,000 schools are closed or non-operational due to violence, jeopardizing children's future, especially girls who are the least likely to return to school after prolonged interruptions. In the North-West and South-West regions of Cameroon, two out of three schools are closed, affecting up to 700,000 students. Across the Central Sahel, over 137 health centres remain closed due to insecurity, while most of the ones still open are not fully functional.
Women and girls are at heightened risk of sexual and gender-based violence. In Mali, the number of reported gender-based violence cases increased by 40 per cent compared to last year. In the Central African Republic, gender-based violence is the first identified protection risk, and the percentage of women and girls who experienced a protection incident doubled compared to the same period in 2020.
Insecurity is also constraining humanitarian access. Facing worsening insecurity and a complex operational environment, aid workers are increasingly at risk, have been abducted and killed. Insecurity has forced the suspension of operations in some locations, leaving communities without access to basic assistance.
Across West and Central Africa, the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 is also deepening acute needs, exacerbating chronic vulnerabilities and food insecurity. Through COVAX and other channels, vaccination campaigns intensified in 2021, but vaccination rates remain low at a 6 per cent average across the region.
In 2022, the situation of millions of vulnerable people affected by a crisis in West and Central Africa will remain critical. Trends in the Sahel point towards further deterioration. Spillover effects into coastal countries, already experienced in 2021, will likely increase and affect more and more people. In the region, political instability persists. The series of coups d’état in Mali, Chad, and Guinea, renewed hostilities across conflict areas in the region, and 2022 upcoming elections risk further strain the situation in the region and increase inter-communal tensions. In Cameroon, in the North-West and South-West regions, the fragmentation of non-state armed groups (NSAG) and increasing criminality have led to an increasingly fragile environment. In the Central African Republic and Niger, in the absence of a political solution to address to root causes of the crises, the overall protection, and humanitarian situation risk further deteriorating. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), national and provincial political dynamics, as well as the reconfiguration of the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), could also be factors influencing the protection environment and local contexts, amidst the emergence of new conflicts causing more violence and forced displacement.
Close to 1,000 humanitarian partner organizations are working across the region to respond to the most urgent needs of those affected. The scaling up of the response, however, is hampered by a lack of funding and resources.
Life-saving aid also needs to be accompanied by longer-term interventions focused on reducing needs. Humanitarian and development efforts must be complementary, based on principles of do-no-harm and community acceptance. Investment is needed to address economic and gender inequalities, lack of access to basic services, human rights violations and non-inclusive governance, the scarcity of resources and the climate emergency, and the worrying rise in hunger.