Sahel Risks Becoming a Forgotten Crisis, UN Official Says

A senior U.N. official is warning Africa’s volatile Sahel region risks becoming a forgotten crisis because of the many competing emergencies around the world. The head of the regional office for West and Central Africa for the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Charles Bernimolin, expressed his concerns in an interview with VOA this week.

He noted that millions of people in six Sahel countries — Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria — need international support to survive. The official, based in Dakar, Senegal, told VOA he drummed this message home in meetings with donor countries here in Geneva.

He said 18.6 million people face acute hunger, with many on the brink of starvation. He said 7.7 million children under the age of 5 are malnourished, including nearly 2 million who are severely malnourished and risk dying without prompt treatment.

The region’s growing needs, he said, are largely ignored because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and other crises around the world. While the world is not looking, he said the Sahel crisis is worsening.

“Because of crisis, you have an entire generation who basically does not have access to basic services, who does not have access to the minimum of food or the minimum of health and school protection. In certain cases, those people are even kidnapped, killed.”

Bernimolin said the combination of conflict and violence, deep poverty, weak governance, and the impact of climate change is driving millions of people to the fringes of survival.

OCHA said armed conflict and violent extremism in the region have forced millions to abandon their land and homes. It said fighting by jihadists and other armed groups in Burkina Faso has displaced nearly 2 million people.

Bernimolin said the ongoing violence has triggered an unprecedented exodus from rural to urban areas, noting that those abandoning their land cannot cultivate their crops or feed themselves and their families

“Displaced people. People who do not have any place to go, that have to quit their village and have to be accommodated either in camps — something that we try to avoid or something in other communities and other villages … Those communities that are affected by the crisis. They are displaced. They need access to food, water, sanitation, health, and education. That is really the priority.”

While more than 30 million Sahelians need assistance and protection, Bernimolin said only a third of the U.N.’s $4.1 billion appeal for its humanitarian operation was funded.

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