The Central Sahel
Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger – is facing one of the most challenging and complex humanitarian crises worldwide. The compounded impact of escalating conflict and insecurity, climate change and weather extremes, and Covid-19 is devastating communities across the sub-region and driving needs to unprecedented levels. A record high of 13.4 million people in the three countries – one person in five – now need lifesaving assistance and protection.
Coordinated action, sufficient resources and a principled response are urgently required to bring operations to scale and turn the crisis around. The future of millions, 4 people in 5 under 35 years of age, is at stake.
The main driver of the dramatic deterioration of the situation in the Central Sahel is conflict and insecurity. From the epicentre in the border region between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, violence has quickly spread across vast areas, heightening the risk of spill-over into new regions, including West African coastal countries. Civilians are caught between armed groups, intercommunal violence and military operations. Schools, health centres, religious and other public institutions are frequently targeted, threatening civilians’ lives and livelihoods, limiting access to basic social services, deepening needs and tearing the social fabric of communities. More than 6,600 people have been killed in the past 12 months. Human rights violations including sexual and gender-based violence and violence against children, are on a sharp rise.
IMPACT ON ESSENTIAL SERVICES
The three countries face a structural gap in basic social services in rural areas. Fueled by long-standing failures, the security crisis limits or disrupts access to vital services in many of the affected communities, in turn further driving insecurity and exacerbating inequalities. More than 150 health centers are non-functional, and some 3,500 schools are closed, depriving violence-affected communities of most essential care and education. The disruption of basic services is deeply affecting an entire generation of youth in a region struggling to reap a window of opportunity for a demographic dividend.
The deteriorating security has resulted in massive displacement. The number of internally displaced people in the Central Sahel has risen twentyfold from 70,000 to 1.5 million since 2018. The rapid increase is especially staggering in Burkina Faso where violence has forced one million people to flee their homes since early 2019, including 400,000 people in 2020. Niger’s eastern Diffa region in addition continues to host 125,000 people internally displaced people and 168,000 Nigerian refugees who have fled violence related to the unabated Lake Chad basin crisis. Large-scale displacement is straining weak services and scarce natural resources, such as land and water, further exacerbating tension and social conflicts. Displaced families, in particular women and children, are at greater risk of violence, exploitation and recruitment by non-state armed groups.
DETERIORATING FOOD INSECURITY
The upsurge of violence has also become the main driver of a dramatic food crisis, hitting conflict-affected communities the hardest. Agropastoral production, livelihood for 4 in 5 families in the sub-region, is particularly exposed to the impact of conflict and climate change. Recent drought-flood cycles have hit communities hard, while insecurity and displacement are limiting access and means to produce food. Across the region, 7.4 million people are acutely food insecure – three times more than last year and a massive increase compared to the average of the last five years. In Burkina Faso, an estimated 11,000 persons are already facing famine levels of food insecurity. Close to 1 million children in the sub-region are affected by life-threatening severe acute malnutrition, and the vicious cycle of insecurity, displacement and disruption of basic social services directly impacts the nutritional status of the most vulnerable. Prioritizing acute malnutrition and food insecurity hotspots and mobilizing for accelerated response will be crucial to save lives and livelihoods. Without urgent action, a catastrophe is looming.