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UN, Warning of Migration Specter, Seeks Record $2B for Sahel

FILE - The U.N.'s Toby Lanzer, shown speaking to reporters in Juba, South Sudan, in June 2014, says tens of thousands from the Sahel could eventually be fleeing from poverty, peril or climate change.

The United Nations on Wednesday sought a record $2 billion for the Sahel to tackle what a senior U.N. official called a triple crisis of poverty, insecurity and climate change that could lead to a new wave of migration.

The United Nations has increased its appeal for the nine countries in the semiarid band stretching from Senegal to Chad more than tenfold in as many years, but each year funding has fallen short.

Toby Lanzer, U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator, said that it would be difficult for top donors from Western governments, facing many competing crises, to increase their pledges but that it was in their own best interests to do so.

"Right now people are riding their bicycles from Russia into Norway," he said, referring to Syrian refugees arriving in northern Europe. "Eventually, you are going to have thousands or tens of thousands of people [from the Sahel] who will seek opportunities elsewhere or, if worse comes to the worst, be forced to flee," he told Reuters.

Attacks by militants from the radical Islamist group Boko Haram in the Lake Chad basin, as well as efforts by regional armies to counter them, have already forced 2.5 million people to flee their homes — a figure that has tripled in 12 months.

Communities whose livelihoods are affected by the violence are particularly vulnerable to radicalization, and timely humanitarian assistance such as food and health care can help counter that, the United Nations said.

Climate change is another factor behind the growing number of vulnerable people across the region, with unpredictable rainfall patterns — resulting mostly from human activity in richer countries — regularly affecting food production.

A portion of the 2016 funding, part of a $20.1 billion record U.N. humanitarian appeal, will also go toward education, which Lanzer hopes will encourage young girls to finish schooling and cap population growth in a region ill-equipped to cope with a forecast sixfold increase in population by 2100.

The biggest recipient in 2016 will be Chad with $567 million, which has suffered a series of Boko Haram suicide bombings in recent months, followed by Mali with $354 million and Niger with $316 million.

All three countries are in the bottom dozen countries on the U.N. human development index.