Joint UN HABITAT - WFP News Release

Dakar/ Nairobi/ Johannesburg - 11 March 2022 - The socioeconomic situation of the urban poor in Sub-Saharan Africa has worsened following the COVID-19 pandemic, with millions of people facing acute food insecurity and malnutrition – a new report shows.

The report – released today by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UNHABITAT) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) – shines a spotlight on urban vulnerabilities and food insecurity amidst the global pandemic, revealing that the urban poor in Africa have been disproportionately affected.

The analysis reveals that the urban poor often rely on the informal economy, live in overcrowded settlements, and have limited access to basic social services including water, sanitation and health and formal social safety nets. Moreover, urban livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa are less diversified, irregular, unstable and are predominantly informal and more reliant on markets and cash economy. In this context, the loss of income combined with price surges due to COVID-19 containment measures, and the closure of informal markets on which the urban poor rely for the large part of their food supplies, have all undermined their ability to access nutritious foods.

While the pandemic has affected all segments of society, urban poor living in slums and informal settlements, who make up more than 60 percent of the total population of Sub-Saharan Africa, were particularly hard hit, with over 90 percent of the COVID-19 cases recorded in cities. An estimated 68.1 million women, men and children among the urban population were at risk of acute food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2020. This includes 22 million in Central Africa, 16 million in West Africa, 15.7 million in East Africa and 14.4 million in Southern Africa, representing 15 percent of the total urban populations in the region.

“Hunger and malnutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa have long been associated with rural areas. But the pandemic is revealing the changing face of hunger, exposing vulnerabilities of the urban poor,” said Chris Nikoi, WFP’s Regional Director for Western Africa.

“This report is a wakeup call for us all to boost urban food security, sustainable livelihoods, including social protection, in order to empower the urban poor and make them more resilient to shocks,” he added.

The report, which provides the first-ever analysis of acute food and nutrition insecurity in urban settings across 49 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, calls on governments to prioritize and enhance social protection systems and to upgrade basic social services to urban populations, particularly for those living in slum areas and informal settlements.
“Considering the current trends of urbanization that are largely driven by those migrating from the rural to the urban in search for economic opportunities and better access to services, food assistance programmes must be augmented and tailored to meet the needs of the urban poor, many of whom have no access to formal social insurance systems,” said Oumar Sylla, Director, UNHABITAT Regional Office for Africa.

The analysis also shows that in some regions, a new kind of infrastructure and supportive services are required to support inclusive urban development in rapidly urbanizing regions of Africa amidst stagnant incomes, and a worsening housing crisis manifested through the proliferation of slums and informal settlements.

“With the number of Africa’s urban population projected to increase to 1.5 billion by 2050, collaborations in policy design, implementation and assessments across governments and agencies that work on health, WASH and social welfare is ultimately necessary to enhance programming and address multiple dimensions of urban deprivations” Sylla added.

The United Nations World Food Programme is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

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UN-Habitat is the UN agency focused on our cities, towns and communities. UN-Habitat works in over 90 countries supporting people in cities and human settlements for a better urban future. Working with governments and local partners, its high impact projects combine world-class expertise and local knowledge to deliver timely and targeted solutions. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes a dedicated Goal on cities, SDG 11 – to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Visit and follow @UNHabitat for further information.

For more information please contact (email address:

Djaounsede Madjiangar, WFP/Dakar, Mob. +221 77 639 42 71

Alessandro Abbonizio, WFP NAIROBI, Mob. + +254 723 001 639

Claudia Altorio, WFP JOBURG, Mob. + 27 82 908 1448 Robert Ndugwa, UN-Habitat/Nairobi, Mob. +254 720 492021

Ishaku Maitumbi, UN-Habitat/Nairobi, Mob. +254 733 984285