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Compounded crises risk wreaking havoc in the Sahel, UN and NGOs alert

15 May 2020

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World Food Programme food distribution in Kaya, Burkina Faso, 31 March 2020. Credit: WFP/Mahamady Ouedraogo

Eight United Nations aid agencies and non-governmental organizations working in Africa’s Sahel region have warned that 24 million people, half of them children, need life-saving assistance and protection.

This equals one person in five of the total population of 120 million in the Sahel, and is the highest number ever recorded.

“The clock is ticking for what is an unprecedented displacement and protection crisis in this region. Hundreds of thousands of people have already been driven from their homes and now face the added uncertainty brought by the coronavirus,” said Millicent Mutuli, Director of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Regional Bureau for West and Central Africa, in a press release issued yesterday. “Local communities across the region have demonstrated remarkable generosity in hosting them but cannot cope anymore, without urgent support as national capacities are overwhelmed. The situation in Sahel was already rapidly becoming untenable, with a multi-level humanitarian crisis. We need to act quickly to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.”

The crisis has been triggered by a myriad of factors, including deterioration in security that has led to displacement within countries and across borders. There is also rising hunger, inequality. And the direct and indirect consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a reported rise in gender-based violence.

There are 4.5 million internally displaced people and refugees in the Sahel. Some 12 million people are food insecure at crisis and emergency levels, and 1.6 million children are severely malnourished.

Aid agencies aim to reach 17 million people with assistance and require US$2.8 billion. So far, only 18 per cent of this amount has been received.