Refugee crisis, meet food crisis

I spent the late part of last night trying to catch up on some of the African ‘situations’ I’ve found myself a bit out of sync with. As is to be expected with pretty large continents, there’s a lot going on and so a lot to stay up to date with. At the end of 2015, elections were held in the volatile Central African Republic, and February 2016 alone will play host to major elections in Uganda, Niger and Benin.

Amongst all of this early 2016 African action, there are two underlying situations which seem like they will come together to define the continent’s year.

The first situation is highlighted by a new report from the WFP that I was reading a few days ago. The El Nino weather system, which I’ve blogged about before, and is the eternal bane of life to many African states, is going to ruin crop yields across sub-Saharan Africa in 2016. Maize, the staple for many of those states, relies on wet conditions at the planting stage. The El Nino weather pattern brings drier-than-usual conditions to southern Africa, as it did in late 2015. As a result, the WFP predicts that around 14 *million* people will starve this year.

Put that crisis a side for a second, and enter the second situation:

South Sudan, Burundi, Nigeria, Chad, Somalia, Mozambique — all states currently experiencing varying levels of civil war or insurgency. A couple of those conflicts are undoubtedly toying with the idea of rampant genocide. As regular watchers of BBC News or CNN are aware, rampant genocide is currently occurring in Iraq, the Iraqi Kurdistan and in Syria, and will also be aware that genocide leads to unstoppable flows of refugees fleeing gunshots for the safe shores of Europe. Well, fleeing Burundians, for example, are no different to fleeing Syrians. There is currently a vast movement of refugees moving around the African continent.

Here are some numbers (and they all contrast well with the 40,000 Syrian refugees the UK is admitting):

  • Ethiopia currently hosts 200,000 refugees in camps near its border with South Sudan, where 2 million people are displaced.
  • 232,000 people have fled Burundi since the conflict began in April 2015. 123,000 are in camps in Tanzania, while 77,000 moved north to Rwanda.
  • Nigeria has 3.3 million people internally displaced by conflict, and the DRC has 2.9 million people internally displaced by conflict.

These two different situations — refugee crisis and food crisis — represent what what will be a disastrous convergence of crises in 2016. Millions of people fleeing conflict, crossing borders into neighbouring countries who themselves lack the infrastructure to cope with such numbers and face devastating food shortages. What makes this situation even more sobering is the current inability of UN agencies to deal with the existing levels of refugee movement in Africa and elsewhere. Funding of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) fell well short of what was requested by sub-organisations in a number of regions in 2015.

For sub-Saharan Africa, clear funding shortfalls added to the sheer volumes of people needing shelter, food, and sanitation means that 2016 could be a catastrophic year for millions of people unless international donors step up funding. The South Sudan conflict appears to be ready to flare back into outright civil war, while the Burundian situation is also escalating. Boko Haram are continuing their insurgency in Nigeria, and conflict in Mozambique threatens the recently peaceful atmosphere in the far South of the continent.

There couldn’t be a worse time for international agencies to be ill prepared for a major, trans-national humanitarian event, but they are.

What better time for an African Union summit, though? (It currently going on at it’s HQ in Addis)

P.S. a good Guardian graphic below about requested funding/granted funding during the five ‘biggest’ humanitarian emergencies last year:


Originally published at on January 24, 2016.

Like what you read? Give Ashley Giles a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.