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NCDs and Migration in the Sahel: The Effects of Nutrition on Migrant Health

  *Seen above, mother feeding her son through the support of UNICEF

             Food scarcity and nutrition necessities are major issues for the Sahel. It may go without saying that when mass migration transpires, food becomes a widely neglected yet key area of concern for the well-being of the people. Prevention of humanitarian crises is crucial for the eventual ascension of the Sahel. This section of the paper will continue as follows; the first part will address where and why food scarcity is happening as well as who it is affecting. After identifying and addressing the issue, an explanation of the connection to NCDs will be completed. Post connection to NCDs, an analysis of the future of the region in relation to different strains of NCDs  will be conducted. Lastly, an effort to identify possible areas where aid can be most valuable as well as policy recommendations will be made.

Food Scarcity in the Sahel

            The Sahel region has a population of roughly 135 million, but at any given moment there are between 3 – 4.5 million displaced people in the Sahel region. This includes both internally displaced people and refugees. Of the 135 million people residing in the Sahel, 29.2 million face food insecurity, of which 12.2 million face severe food insecurity, including most of the displaced community. The effects of migration have only exacerbated the effects of food scarcity in various areas. The sudden inflow of migrants on existing communities has put an incredible strain on the hosts. In addition, those who are not welcomed by existing communities typically reside in open spaces or settlement camps. These locations do not have an influx of core infrastructures, reliable food or water sources, yet host extremely dense populations. As a result, this has cumulated into 2.4 million severely malnourished children, and a 100%-225% rise in people facing hunger in the past 5 years depending on the area.



Food Scarcity and NCDs

            The nutrition concerns for the Sahel region are immense and troubling. With so many malnourished persons, it is important to also look at what the long-term implications are. When a person is malnourished for a prolonged period of time, permanent damage to the body begins to occur. The two types of malnourishment most prevalent to migrants in the region are a lack of food, or a lack of diversity in food, both of which are caused by food insecurity. When a human body does not consume enough nutrients to meet energy needs, a variety of harmful NCDs can begin to form. In this case, some of the most common diseases are heart-disease, different cancers, and diabetes. The rate that the damage is done can also be at a more accelerated pace than expected. Within 4-6 days of food scarcity initiating, early signs of damage to the stomach and intestines may begin. The second type of malnutrition is a lack of variety. Due to the food demands of the food scarce areas, much of the food available are bulk, inexpensive, and filling foods that carry homogenous nutrients. Rice, grains, and others are the most common foods ingested to suffice the demands. While the people may be meeting the energy needs of their body, a lack of variety in minerals and vitamins may become present. This may lead to NCDs such as diabetes and hypertension developing, amongst many others. Both of these sources of malnutrition are damaging not only to the obvious immediate problem, but also the long term NCD issue. Those who deal or have dealt with these types of malnutrition face repercussions for their entire lifetime. This creates an even deeper level of medical need and long-term care need for those effected. Therefore, even if the entire issue of food scarcity was removed immediately, special consideration would need to be taken to address the already existing damage.  Each of these conditions are felt disproportionally by migrants. This is due to the higher level of food scarcity felt from fleeing or being displaced, and in part by the short-term solution of low nutritional food aid supplied.


*Seen above, a refugee camp in Mali, near the border of Burkina Faso


Future Issues and Policy Recommendations

            As previously mentioned, NCDs are likely to become a permanent future for many migrants of the Sahel. According to some studies the effects of food insecurity can raise the probability of have an NCD by 3%-15% depending on the disease, with an increasing rate for those severely food insecure like much of the migrants. In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) gathers that 30% of NCD deaths in low-middle income countries occur prior to age 60, while in high income countries this statistic is only 13%. Therefore, with a growing amount of displaced people and the relation of food insecurity, it is reasonable to infer the amount of NCDs and unfortunate deaths arising from NCDs prior to 60 will continue to hike. The long-term implication of this implies that each nation in the Sahel will face a continuously increasing demand for healthcare, foreign aid, and food production for the foreseeable future.

            In addition to the hardships already mentioned that have strained the Sahel, climate change will also play a vital role on the region. Prior to explaining potential policy shifts and recommendations for the region as a whole, it is important to realize the future of the region is a hot one. According to the UN, the average temperature of the Sahel is expected to rise 3-5 ° Celsius by 2050. In addition to warmer average temperatures, rainy seasons are shortening and increasing in intensity, leading to flooding and destruction of crops. When not in rainy season the increasing heat has caused mounting numbers of droughts for inland areas. The fluctuation and loss of arable land has caused food production to lower. These effects are already taking effect now and to many are to blame for the eruption of conflicts in parts of the Sahel. With this being said it, is important to clarify that climate change is not the cause of many of the issues, but rather will exacerbate the effects of the mass migration already transpiring. When food shortages become prevalent, more conflicts occur due to scarcity of resources. This will cause more people to become displaced and suffer high levels of food insecurity. The increasing food insecurity will severely and permanently damage hosts’ bodies; the levels of this will be felt hardest by those migrating and displaced. For this reason, the growing issue must be addressed immediately. Disregarding this destructive matter may lead to the additional necessity of healthcare and foreign aid that will grow to near unmanageable levels without the possibility of increased food production.


            What changes can be made to address the food insecurities that are both attributing to the migrant crisis and causing increases in NCDs in the future? While a stop to conflict in the region is in the interest of halting displacement, this section will focus on how to reduce food scarcity for those who have been displaced in an effort to reduce the rate of NCDs among migrants. As previously discussed, food scarce inhabitants and low-income areas suffer higher rates of developing NCDs. Migrants face extremes in these categories and are most vulnerable to the negative effects. The first recommendation is for the governments of the region to take ownership of sizable arable land and employ several farmers to manage the land. The goal of this is to have money feeding into people to stimulate economic growth while having control of food production and prices/distribution. This can be done through a collaboration of foreign intervention and domestic government intervention to accrue the necessary funds to initiate the strategy. It would also be advised to have this be done in a zone that has higher levels of stability. While this plan is in the view of long-term success, it may not address some of the other issues such as climate change related issues and immediate food scarcity. Therefore, it would be advised to pair this strategy with an increased level of foreign aid for afflicted regions. Of this increased aid, a special necessity for nutrient filled supplements could be used to garner nutrition needed while supplying the most amount of calorie dense food possible. Lastly, while clean water aid is already being supplied to many areas, additives to the water to add vitamins and minerals to supplement the diet of region can have a large impact on preventing many of the deficiencies that can impact the prevalence of NCDs. The overall best plan for every nation is to take immediate action to prevent the migration crisis from feeling long-term effects of food scarcity. Any aid to the impacted areas now prevents more issues for the future. Area specific examples and concepts will be applied later in the subsequent section of this article.





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BIo: Matthew Da Silva is a graduate from the University of Toronto earning a specialist is political science and international relations, and a certificate in global perspectives. During his education Matthew grew more interested in creating public and international policy to improve the lives of people worldwide. He will soon be entering a Master's degree in International Relations which he hopes to use to broaden his perspectives both practically and theoretical. After a mentorship with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency he began to engage in health policy. He hopes to provide meaningful work and continue learning from this opportunity.


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