YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – As the specter of hunger looms over West and Central Africa, Catholic agencies are rallying to address a crisis hitting millions.

During the lean season, which spans from June to August, food insecurity is projected to escalate to critical levels in several countries, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria.

A report from Cadre Harmonisé says nearly 52 million people are likely to be affected by acute food and nutrition insecurity nutrition insecurity,

Wilson Kipkoech, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Nigeria’s Emergency Coordinator, told Crux that the report was “accurate and particularly concerning for Nigeria.”

He said the worsening food insecurity will increase the number of persons in critical phases of Food and Nutrition Insecurity by 16.4 percent, reaching over 30 million people, “unless urgent immediate food assistance, emergency agriculture and midterm resilience rebuilding interventions are implemented.”

According to the World Food Program, the incidence of food insecurity in West and Central Africa has quadrupled since 2019. In comparison to the same period last year, an additional 4 million people are now at risk of food insecurity. This alarming trend is particularly concerning for children under the age of five, who are disproportionately affected.

Globally, approximately 17 million children suffer from malnutrition, highlighting the severity of the crisis. Among the countries in the region, Nigeria—the largest nation in Africa—will bear a significant burden, with nearly 61 percent of those slipping into hunger during the lean season.

The factors driving food insecurity in West and Central Africa are many and varied, including drought, jihadist attacks, and wars influenced by climate change.

Kipkoech said that in the case of Nigeria, the major drivers include “insecurity and displacement of people due to insurgents and ethnoreligious conflicts; rising inflation and fuel prices that have directly impacted the price of basic foods; inflation reducing the access to nutritious foods complicating health conditions for vulnerable groups such as children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding women; and drought in parts of the country that has contributed to less food availability.”

He said the alarming rates of food insecurity was particularly damaging to children, explaining that in the Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe States of Nigeria specifically, “there is a risk of higher morbidity and mortality. Without urgent humanitarian action, there will be an increased risk of death for more than 20,000 children under the age of 5 due to malnutrition.”

It’s a crisis is also being spoken about by Nigeria’s bishops.

“Nigeria is really sick, even food has become a luxury,” said Bishop Stephen Dami Mamza of Nigeria’s Catholic Diocese of Yola during a Mass on March 17.

The same week, the President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, Archbishop Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, raised the alarm over the nation’s worsening food insecurity situation, saying that the quest for food security has remained elusive.

“There is no doubt that there is hunger in the land. It is equally true that the current level of insecurity in Nigeria is preventing farmers from going to their farms,” he said.

“This scenario has resulted to decreased food production and hunger in the land has kept rising. We are told that a hungry man is an angry man. Therefore, if we have an intimidating army of angry people, then, we must consciously or unconsciously be sitting on a keg of gunpowder,” Ugorji continued.

He challenged the government to tackle the insecurity in Nigeria if investments in Agriculture could result in food security for the country.

Kipkoech told Crux the CRS “is supporting communities through nutrition support, screening and treatment of those experiencing acute malnutrition, emergency agriculture support such as providing seeds and tools, and general support for the most vulnerable communities, such as internally displaced families, in the northern part of the country.”

He called for more access to land and increased support for farmers if any efforts at kicking hunger out of Nigeria must be sustainable.

“There should be strong support for access to farmlands, especially in locations that have been recently affected by conflict, increased funding for supporting farmers and others who make their living in agriculture, and targeted food assistance to those who are experiencing an increase in hunger,” Kipkoech said.