Sahel crisis: UN warns 10mn children at risk and in need of aid

Children in a displaced persons camp in Mali are being helped to recover from trauma.

GENEVA: Ten million children in West Africa’s central coastal region are now at “extreme risk” and in dire need of humanitarian aid, the United Nations has issued a warning.

Number of children in desperate need of assistance Burkina FasoChildren’s agency UNICEF said the number in Mali and Niger was double that in 2020.

Meanwhile, another four million children are at risk in neighboring countries as fighting between armed groups and security forces spreads across borders.

Marie Pierre Poirier, of UNICEF said the Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

“The year 2022 has been particularly violent for children in the Central Coast. The conflict Attacks on children, and both their schools, health centers and homes, need to be stopped immediately.”

The region has been wracked by jihadist violence for years, with Mali struggling with an 11-year insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes.

Meanwhile, Burkina Faso, one of the world’s most unstable and impoverished countries, witnessed two military coups in 2022.

Unicef ​​said the armed conflict engulfing the region is becoming increasingly brutal, with some groups operating across large swaths of the region besieging towns and sabotaging water networks.

Schools were burnt, looted.

In Burkina Faso, three times as many child deaths were confirmed during the first nine months of 2022 as during the same period in 2021, according to UN data.

Most were killed by gunshots during attacks on their villages or as a result of improvised explosive devices or explosive remnants of war.

Unicef ​​said armed groups opposed to state education “systematically burn and loot schools, and threaten, kidnap or kill teachers”.

More than 8,300 schools have closed in the three countries: more than one in five in Burkina Faso, while nearly a third of schools in Niger’s Talberi region are no longer functioning.

James Jones, UNICEF spokesman for the region, described the “extreme threat to the lives and futures of children in the Central Coast”.

“Things are going downhill at an alarming rate,” he told reporters in Geneva.

“Slowly and surely it’s spreading, and children — millions of them — are increasingly in the middle of it.”

Several factors are behind the worsening trends, she said, including high food prices, chronic underfunding for humanitarian aid and development, lack of national commitment to children’s services, and climate change, temperatures in the Sahel. Growing 1.5 times faster than the global average. .

UNICEF called on all parties to the conflict to fulfill their “moral and legal obligations” towards children under international law, including ending attacks on youth and schools.

Spreading to the south

Violence is spreading from the central coast to the northern regions of Benin, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Togo, which are remote communities where children have very limited access to protection and services, UNICEF said.

“There is increasing insecurity in these littoral countries, which are linked to similar activities by non-state armed groups,” Jones said.

In 2022, UNICEF received only a third of the $391 million requested for the main Sahel appeal.

In 2023, it has appealed for $473.8 million for humanitarian response projects in the Central Coast and neighboring coastal countries.

Poirier said the crisis calls for long-term investment to promote “social cohesion, sustainable development, and a better future for children.”

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