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On the cusp of famine‘Nowhere scares me more than the Sahel... we are close to a tipping point’

Caught between jihadists and climate change, the region faces an almighty humanitarian crisis. Will Brown reports from Burkina Faso. Pictures by Simon Townsley

This article has an estimated read time of five minutes



The malnutrition ward is so packed that staff are using broken incubators to block the corridors and stop the ward from becoming completely overwhelmed by mothers and their starving children.

Rasmata Cisse, a tiny five-year-old, is standing in the corridor, her legs so emaciated they look like they could snap at any moment.

The wards around her in Kaya central hospital in northern Burkina Faso are full of children who are lying three to a bed.

One boy is curled up, his skin covered in sores and infections from the hunger, moaning in pain. Another lies shivering, eyes closed, blood leaking out of his ear from an unknown infection.

The women sitting on the floor next to their starved children say they feel helpless. Their stories vary, but fundamentally they are the same: masked gunmen came to their villages and drove them away from their crops and animals. Now they have nothing to eat.

Some 7.2 million children need humanitarian assistance in the landlocked region

“We fled the men with guns in the village. Now we are not eating enough. I have no milk left in my breasts to feed my son,” says Ousseni.

Dr Dabíré Germain, the hospital’s head , looks exhausted – his ward is running at 130 per cent capacity and he is short of almost everything, including doctors.

“The health centres in many villages have been closed because of the fighting. So a lot more people are coming here to the central hospital,” says Dr Germain, “I just don’t understand. The population is so impoverished. Why are they being attacked?”

Across the vast arid Sahel region, south of the Sahara Desert, a fierce war with jihadists allied to Al Qaeda and Islamic State has displaced millions of people .

Rasmata Cisse, aged five, is emaciated from food shortages

The malnutrition ward is overwhelmed by mothers and their starving children

The flood of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) are now beginning to overwhelm the impoverished nations of the Sahel which are already struggling with a lack of jobs for their booming populations, climate change, and cyclical bouts of mass hunger.