What the war in Ukraine means for Africa

June 3, 2022
By Sirena Cordova
June 3, 2022
~4 min read

Our world is intricately connected, often in ways we don’t fully understand. Food supply chains are especially complex, and shortages or disruptions of crop production in one region can have devastating implications for countries around the world. 

For countries in Africa, disruptions to the supply chain caused by the war in Ukraine are decreasing food imports. For instance, nearly all the wheat sold in Somalia comes from Ukraine and Russia, which have halted exports through the Black Sea since Feb. 24. Countries like Burkina Faso, Niger and Somalia are facing a hunger crisis like never before. 

In 2021, the U.N. estimated that 928 million people were severely food insecure — meaning they didn’t have reliable access to basic food necessities. Now, the scarcity of food and increase in prices could put more than 1 billion people over the edge this year. Nearly 44 million children are already facing the most severe form of malnutrition. 

In central and east Africa, regions which rely on imported wheat and other food items that would typically be shipped from or through Ukraine, hunger has reached a critical level. Conflict and COVID-19 had already taken its toll on food supplies, but now families are skipping meals entirely to ration what’s left. Some girls even end up sacrificing whatever portion they get to care for other family members. 

Najma cooks a small meal for her family.
Najma cooks a small meal for her family.

“It happens that even if girls are hungry, they prefer to [give their portion to] children, whether it is their child or brother,” 11-year-old Najma from Somalia says. “It deeply affects girls, and in different ways. Their bodies are becoming malnourished, [to the point] it can be seen in their physical appearance.” 

Nearly 5.6 million people in Najma’s country are food insecure. Girls are especially vulnerable to the impacts of the hunger crisis. They’re more likely to be taken out of school to help around the house or fetch any water that’s available. But because water sources are usually far away, the walk is physically exhausting, and potentially dangerous. 

“Earlier I was in school, but I dropped out to help my mother,” Beti, a 15-year-old from Mozambique, says. “This is a bad situation … [as] most of either the students or teachers move out to other areas.” 

When families are in a desperate situation like this, how they cope can disrupt progress toward gender equality and child protection. Girls face the brunt of these effects the most — like Najma and Beti, they’re taken out of school. Or, they’re married off to alleviate financial hardship. 

This is also what’s happening in South Sudan. Girls are at a higher risk of being forced to marry if they’re out of school, especially when food is scarce and families have little money. “Child booking” is still a common practice, where girls as young as 5 years old are promised to a suitor for when they’re of marriageable age — usually once they turn 15. If a girl stays in school, she may escape this forced marriage. But decades of conflict, including the current civil war, and displacement have destroyed food resources and forced schools to close. Right now, 2.4 million people risk facing famine if they don’t receive assistance. 

Adeng goes to a food distribution point to pick up rations for her family.
Adeng goes to a food distribution point to pick up rations for her family.

[Read: Meet the girls and women on the front lines of South Sudan’s hunger crisis]

“Our enemies are always attacking us,” 18-year-old Adeng says about the rebel forces fighting in South Sudan’s civil war. “We really suffer a lot. We are always on the run. They kidnap our people, mostly women and children. Now, our area is empty. We lost all our food during the floods. Now, we face hunger.” 

Adeng was married off while she was still a girl, which also meant she was forced to drop out of school to move in with her husband. Now, she’s pregnant, so finding adequate food is even more dire than before. 

If we don’t act now, it’s possible that 300,000 people could starve to death every day, according to the U.N. Girls and women account for 70% of the world’s hungry, meaning that this crisis will further halt progress for girls’ equality in hunger hot spots around Africa, and the world. 

Plan International is responding to this crisis in central and east African countries, providing lifesaving relief for girls and families like food and water kits, school meals and medical treatment for malnutrition. Your support for these efforts truly makes the difference between a girl like Najma or Adeng going to bed hungry or full.  

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