The United Nations and NGOs said Tuesday a record 29 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in the Sahel, noting “unprecedented” insecurity and hunger in six countries in the war-torn African region.
According to a statement, in Burkina Faso, northern Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger and northeastern Nigeria, five million more people than last year are in need of aid.
Much of the semi-arid Sahel – a vast region stretching along the southern edge of the Sahara from the Atlantic to the Red Sea – has been plagued by violence for years.
Islamist militants launched a brutal uprising in northern Mali in 2012, for example, overcoming a rebellion by ethnic Tuareg separatists.
France intervened to push back the jihadists, but they dispersed and regrouped, taking their campaign to central Mali in 2015 and then to neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso.
Chad and the Sahel regions in northern Cameroon and Nigeria are also in conflict with Islamist fighters.
A record 29 million people across the region are in need of humanitarian assistance, the United Nations said in a statement, also signed by NGOs Norwegian Refugee Council and Plan International.
About 5.3 million people have been displaced due to insecurity across the Sahel, he added, noting that thousands of schools have been closed and 1.6 million children are expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition.
“We have seen hunger increase by nearly a third in West Africa – to its highest levels in the better part of a decade,” said Chris Nikoi, regional director of the United Nations World Food Program.
He added that the violence-related hike in food prices is driving hunger and malnutrition.
Describing the crisis as “unprecedented”, the statement called for more funding to address the humanitarian situation.
“Behind the numbers and data, there are stories of human suffering,” said Julie Belanger, regional director of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“Without sufficient resources, the crisis will escalate further, eroding the resilience of communities and putting millions more children, women and men at risk,” she added.
eml / jz