UN says people need humanitarian assistance, noting “unparallelled” insecurity and hunger as violent attacks increased eightfold in Central Sahel and tripled in Lake Chad Basin from 2015 to 2020.
The United Nations and NGOs have said that a record 29 million people need humanitarian assistance in the Sahel, noting "unparallelled" insecurity and hunger across six countries in the war-torn African region.
In Burkina Faso, northern Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger, and north-eastern Nigeria, five million more people than last year are in need of aid, according to a statement.
Much of the semi-arid Sahel, a vast region that stretches along the southern rim of the Sahara from the Atlantic to the Red Sea, has been plagued by violence for years.
Due to the increasing number of deadly attacks by terrorist groups, gender-based violence, extortion, or intimidation, 5.3 million among them are forced to flee, often multiple times.
It said both in the Central Sahel and in the Lake Chad Basin, violence is showing no sign of abating: security incidents, attacks, and kidnappings are a daily reality for millions of civilians.
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Growing humanitarian crisis
"Our response to what is an unprecedented humanitarian protection crisis, triggering the displacement of millions of persons, must also include the host communities which generously share the little resources they have," Xavier Creach, the UNHCR's coordinator for the Sahel region, said in a tweet on Tuesday.
The report said the impact of violence on women and children is devastating. In emergency contexts, incidents of gender-based violence (GBV) spike.
"Women and girls in local communities are exposed to the widespread and increasing risk of being abducted, married by force, sexually assaulted and raped."
The UNHCR said the Sahel countries have some of the world’s highest rates of child and forced marriage.
In Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, and Niger, between half and three-quarters of children are married and one adolescent girl out of two is giving birth before the age of 18.
The impact of the current crisis further increases the risks of forced marriage.
In addition to gender-based violence, children are also exposed to child labor, economic exploitation, child recruitment and abuse, physical and verbal violence, and psychological distress, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
Children at risk
Hardliner militants launched a brutal insurgency in northern Mali in 2012, for example, overtaking a rebellion by ethnic Tuareg separatists.
France intervened to beat back the militants, but they scattered and regrouped, taking their campaign into central Mali in 2015 and then into neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso.
Chad and the Sahel regions in the north of Cameroon and Nigeria are also gripped by conflicts with militants.
Some 5.3 million people have been displaced by Sahel-wide insecurity, it added, noting that thousands of schools had closed and 1.6 million children are projected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition.
"We’ve seen hunger jump by almost a third in West Africa, to the highest levels in the best part of a decade," the statement quoted Chris Nikoi, a regional director of UN's World Food Programme, as saying.
He added that soaring food prices linked to violence are driving hunger and malnutrition.
Calling the crisis "unparallelled," the statement urged more funding to address the humanitarian situation.
"Behind the numbers and data, there are stories of human suffering," the statement quoted Julie Belanger, a regional director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as saying.
"Without sufficient resources, the crisis will further escalate, eroding communities’ resilience and putting millions more children, women, and men at risk," she added.