About the Sahel

In the Sahel, abject poverty, fast population growth, climate change, recurrent food and nutrition crises, armed conflicts and violence converge dangerously and undermine the lives and assets and future prospects of millions of families across the region.

Food insecurity

In 2017, an estimated 30 million people will not have enough to eat, of which almost 12 million will require emergency food assistance. Despite a favorable rainy season for the second year in a row, persisting high levels of food insecurity are mostly due to the spiraling needs triggered by the insurgency in the Lake Chad Basin, where more than 7 million people are food insecure at crisis and emergency levels. Pockets of pasture deficits have been observed in certain areas of Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, and risks of locusts have been identified in Mauritania and neighboring areas. The situation of people living in the conflict-affected regions of Mali and the Lake Chad Basin is particularly critical.


Malnutrition remains at critical levels in many communities throughout the region. Some improvement has been observed in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali. However, in certain zones of Chad and northeast Nigeria the global acute malnutrition prevalence rate is as high as 30 per cent, double the emergency threshold. In 2017, it is estimated that 6 million children under five and pregnant and nursing women will be in need of assistance across the region. Around 1.4 million children will require treatment for severe acute malnutrition, and 3.3 million are projected to suffer from moderate acute malnutrition.

Conflicts and displacements

Over the past years, the impact of chronic vulnerabilities and recurrent crises on Sahel communities has been deeply worsened by the toll of conflict and violence across the region. As of December 2016, more than 4.9 million people are uprooted from their homes. Most of the displaced have lost their livelihoods and are often being hosted in already highly vulnerable communities.

In the Lake Chad Basin, Boko Haram-related violence seems to be never-ending, affecting 30 million people living in the poorest areas of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. Pervasive insecurity combined to underlying severe vulnerability is translating into record numbers of people in need of emergency relief. As of December 2016, an estimated 11 million people need urgent assistance and protection. Around 2.4 million people have been displaced by Boko Haram violence, of which almost 2 million in Nigeria alone – half of which are children. The large majority of displaced have sought refuge with host communities, placing an unsustainable strain on already meagre resources. Interrupted farming and fishing, border closures and halted trade have led to a dramatic increase in food insecurity.

The situation in Mali continues to be of concern with persisting insecurity, and some 37,000 people internally displaced. The lingering legacy of the 2012 political crisis continues to weigh heavily on civilians. Incidents of violence have persisted despite the 2015 peace deal between the Government and the main armed movement in the country’s north. Armed attacks, banditry and insecurity in the central and northern regions have caused new population displacements and stifled farming and transhumance. Around 135,000 Malians still living in refuge in neighboring Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger.


Lack of water and sanitation facilities and poor hygiene conditions, exacerbated by limited capacity of health systems to ensure proper surveillance and treatment, make communities extremely vulnerable to disease and epidemics. Cholera outbreaks continue to be recurrent across the region, although less severe than in precedent years. Meningitis, measles, Lassa fever and Polio remain serious risks, with recent outbreaks in the region, and a Rift Valley Fever outbreak was confirmed in north-west Niger. The risk of a new pandemic, such as Ebola, continues to loom large and threaten health systems across the region.

A humanitarian response tailored to the chronic needs of the region

Across the Sahel, hundreds of thousands of households live in unacceptably precarious conditions. Food insecurity, acute malnutrition, disease and disasters are a reality for millions. Conflict has uprooted hundreds of thousands of families from their homes and livelihoods and forced them into aid dependency. With some 24 million people in need of assistance in 2017, the region will require one of the world’s biggest humanitarian response operations.

At the same time, where chronic vulnerabilities drive needs, humanitarians are collaborating with development actors to “shift from delivering aid to ending needs”. Between 2014 and 2016, humanitarian action in the region was guided by the regional Sahel Humanitarian Response Plan. With the aim of reversing the pattern of growing humanitarian needs, the triennial strategy integrated life-saving assistance with improved risk and vulnerability analysis and the livelihood support to vulnerable populations to better cope with shocks and build resilience.

In 2017, in the more stable regions of the Sahel such as Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Senegal, where needs are driven by chronic vulnerability, humanitarian action has been fully aligned with resilience and development frameworks.