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UN, Aid Agencies Cite Unprecedented Humanitarian Needs in Sahel

FILE - Pregnant women and young children in Africa’s volatile Sahel region are in desperate need of life-saving assistance and protection.

United Nations and private aid agencies warned Friday that an unprecedented number of people in Africa’s volatile Sahel region are in desperate need of life-saving assistance and protection.

Aid agencies say they are alarmed but not surprised by the extent of the humanitarian crisis gripping the Sahel. Years of conflict in half a dozen countries, terrorist attacks, climate change causing food insecurity and now the COVID-19 pandemic have stripped the population of its ability to protect and provide for itself.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports 24 million people, or 1 in 5 of the Sahel’s total population of 120 million, need international assistance and protection to survive. This is the highest number ever recorded.

OCHA spokesman, Jens Laerke says children account for half of those affected.

“The multilayered crisis is triggered by a deterioration in security that has led to displacement within countries and across borders, rising hunger, inequality, and the direct and indirect consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a reported rise in gender-based violence,” Laerke said.

The U.N. reports escalating conflict and instability in Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, north-east Nigeria, Chad and northern Cameroon have displaced 4.5 million people in the region, both internally and as refugees. It notes 12 million people are short of food, with many on the brink of starvation and 1.6 million children are severely malnourished.

Aid agencies warn the lean season between June and August, when food stocks are exhausted, will worsen this situation. Another flashpoint is the growing number of coronavirus cases in the region, currently at more than 9,000.

The United Nations has appealed for $2.8 billion to reach 17 million people in need. So far, only 18% of the funds has been received. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Sahel, the U.N. requested an additional $638 million earlier this month.

Aid agencies say failure to support emergency operations in the Sahel will cost many more lives and devastate communities. They warn this humanitarian crisis could spill into new regions and into West African coastal countries if life-saving needs are ignored.