UN chief appeals for urgent action to reverse ‘downward spiral’ in Central Sahel


The world must act now to reverse the situation in Africa’s central Sahel region, where humanitarian needs are at “a breaking point”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told a high-level conference on Tuesday, to address the burgeoning crisis.

UN agencies report that needs in the border region between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger have reached record levels due to rising violence, insecurity and now the COVID-19 pandemic, creating one of the world's fastest-growing humanitarian crises.

They are appealing for $2.4 billion to provide aid assistance through the coming year.

“We need to reverse this downward spiral with a renewed push for peace and reconciliation,” the Secretary-General said in a video message for the event.

“And we need to make space for vital humanitarian assistance and investments in development and people.”

Rising hunger, poverty and displacement
The Central Sahel is one of the poorest regions in the world, according to the UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA.

Violence between armed groups, widespread poverty and the impacts of climate change mean that a record 13.4 million people, half of them children, require aid assistance.

The overall humanitarian situation in the region has deteriorated sharply over the past two years, pushing some 7.4 million people to acute hunger levels, while nearly 1.6 million have been displaced.

A ‘warning sign’ for all
More recently, lockdowns and other measures to prevent COVID-19 spread have pushed an additional six million people into extreme poverty.

“The Sahel is a microcosm of cascading global risks converging in one region”, said Mr. Guterres. “It is a warning sign for us all requiring urgent attention and resolution.”

The high-level event on the Central Sahel was organized by Denmark, Germany, the European Union and the UN.

Ceasefire and aid crucial
The Secretary-General reminded participants of his appeal for a global ceasefire during the COVID-19 pandemic, describing it as “crucial” for the people of the region.

“We also need much more humanitarian aid”, he stressed. “It is no solution to the violence, but it saves lives.”

While UN agencies and non-governmental agencies are on the ground and have protected and saved millions of lives, the Secretary-General said better funding would allow them to do more.

He urged strong support for the $2.4 billion appeal, which will cover the remaining months of this year, and provide emergency assistance through 2021.

“Long-term solutions will come through sustainable development, good governance, and equal opportunities for all, especially young people. That will not happen overnight”, said Mr. Guterres.

“But we can prevent the crisis from growing deadlier and costlier in the future. We must act - and act now.”


Burkina Faso ‘one step short of famine’, warns UN food relief agency

Unless access is urgently granted to humanitarian organizations, thousands in the Central Sahel will be “pushed into further destitution”, the UN emergency food relief agency warned on Monday.

Ahead of Tuesday’s High-Level Ministerial Conference on the Central Sahel in the Danish capital Copenhagen, the World Food Programme (WFP) sounded the alarm that catastrophic levels of hunger could hit parts of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

‘Tragic’ food insecurity spike

Violence and insecurity have pushed 7.4 million people in the Central Sahel region of West Africa into acute hunger, according to WFP.

Additionally, the number of internally displaced people has risen from 70,000 two years ago to nearly 1.6 million today – including over 288,000 in Mali, more than 265,000 in Niger and over one million in Burkina Faso, which is now home to the world’s fastest-growing displacement crisis.

“When we can’t get to vulnerable communities, we’re seeing tragic spikes in food insecurity”, said Chris Nikoi, WFP Regional Director for West Africa.

He explained that “dreadful violence and conflict” in parts of northern Burkina Faso have left over ten thousand people there “one step short of famine”.

“The world cannot wait to take action until children, women and men have died”, stressed the WFP official.

Food deliveries on the way
As the delivery efforts of humanitarian organizations have been jeopardized by worsening conflict and insecurity, life-saving assistance to the neediest communities has become inaccessible.

Moreover, aid workers are increasingly targeted by non-State armed groups in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger.

WFP, which was recently awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, is urging conference participants to find ways for organizations to engage with communities and all actors on the ground to open safe passageways for humanitarian assistance to reach those in need.

A worrying outlook

Meanwhile, in response to the deepening crisis and growing needs, WFP has continued to ramp up lifesaving assistance, reaching more than 3.4 million people in August alone.

In scaling up to meet the growing needs in Burkina Faso, WFP worried about its financial outlook.

The UN agency has already been forced to reduce rations from July and risks, by next month, a break for emergency assistance to displaced people who – having fled their homes, farms, and jobs – have no other options.

Building resilience 
At the same time, WFP is working to strengthen resilience-building support for at-risk communities.

Its interventions include rehabilitating community assets, improving degraded land, feeding students, and community-based nutrition activities, to prevent and treat malnutrition.

Since 2018, more than one million people have benefitted from WFP’s integrated resilience activities in Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso.

Humanitarian event
The UN is co-hosting the conference in Denmark along with Germany and the European Union.

It will feature on Tuesday, a ministerial round table that follows up on a virtual 8 September meeting, focused on forward-looking plans relating to humanitarian action, development, and peace efforts, among other things.