Monday, September 25, 2023

Central Sahel: Lives of 10 million children on the line as conflict rages



Ten million children in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger are in dire need of humanitarian assistance – twice as many as in 2020 – largely due to spiraling conflict, while nearly 4 million children are at risk in neighboring countries as hostilities between armed groups and national security forces spill across borders, according to a UNICEF child alert issued today.

More than 8,300 schools have closed in the three countries (Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger), either because they have been targeted or because parents have been displaced or are afraid to send their children there.  – Catastrophic” food insecurity –

In Burkina Faso, three times more children were verified as killed during the first nine months of 2022 than in the same period in 2021, according to UN data. Most of the children died from gunshot wounds during attacks on their villages or because of improvised explosive devices or explosive remnants of war.

The armed conflict has become increasingly brutal. Some of the armed groups that operate across vast swathes of Mali, Burkina Faso, and increasingly in Niger employ tactics that include blockading towns and villages and sabotaging water networks. Over 20,000 people in the border area between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger will be in ‘catastrophe’-level food insecurity by June 2023, according to recent projections.

Armed groups that oppose state-administered education systematically burn and loot schools, and threaten, abduct, or kill teachers. Over 8,300 schools have shut down across the three countries because they were directly targeted, teachers have fled, or because parents were displaced or too frightened to send their children to school. More than 1 in 5 schools in Burkina Faso have closed and 30 per cent of schools in Niger’s Tillaberi region are no longer functional due to the conflict.

Hostilities are spilling over from the central Sahel into the northern border regions of Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Togo – remote communities with scarce infrastructure and resources, where children have extremely limited access to essential services and protection.

At least 172 violent incidents, including attacks by armed groups, were reported in the northern border areas of the four countries in 2022. In Benin, which has been hardest hit, up to 16 per cent of the population are considered at risk, according to a regional monitoring network. In both Benin and Togo, nine schools in the countries’ northern regions had shut down or were no longer functional due to insecurity by late 2022.

The crisis is unfolding in one of the most climate-affected regions on the planet. Temperatures in the Sahel are rising 1.5 times faster than the global average. Rainfall is more erratic and intense, causing floods that reduce crop yields and contaminate scarce water supplies. In 2022, the worst flooding in years damaged or destroyed 38,000 homes in Niger, which ranks 7th globally on UNICEF’s Children’s Climate Risk Index.

The crisis in the central Sahel remains chronically and critically underfunded: in 2022, UNICEF received just one third of its US$391 million Central Sahel appeal. In 2023, UNICEF has appealed for US$473.8 million to support our humanitarian response in the central Sahel and in neighbouring coastal countries.

“The scale of the crisis in the central Sahel and, increasingly, in neighbouring coastal countries urgently requires a stronger humanitarian response as well as long-term flexible investment in resilient essential social services that will help consolidate social cohesion, sustainable development, and a better future for children,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

To address the increasingly dire threat to children in the central Sahel, UNICEF is urging:

  • Governments across the central Sahel and affected coastal countries, along with technical and financial partners, to significantly scale up investment in expanding access to essential social services and protection, as key pathways to peace and security. This scale up should focus on reinforcing and supporting local systems, networks and workforces that are the first responders during crises, and that can consistently reach children, particularly in hard-to-reach communities.
  • All parties to the conflict to fulfil their fundamental moral and legal obligations toward children under international humanitarian and human rights law. This includes ending attacks on children and the services they rely on; respecting humanitarian space and access; implementing specific protocols on the treatment of children affected by the armed conflict; and engaging systematically with the United Nations on concrete action plans to end grave violations against children.

All these factors contribute to food insecurity. According to UNICEF, more than 20,000 people living in the border area between Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger will reach a level of food insecurity described as “catastrophic” by June. 

Hostilities extend beyond the central Sahel to border areas in northern Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Togo, where isolated communities lack infrastructure and resources, and where children’s access to essential services and protection is very limited. 

But humanitarian interventions are underfunded. In 2022, UNICEF received only one-third of the $391 million it requested to fund its activities in the region. For 2023, it is requesting $473.8 million.





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