In the Central Sahel region of West Africa today, violence and insecurity have pushed 7.4 million people into acute hunger.
And, the number of internally displaced people has risen from 70,000 two years ago to nearly 1.6 million today, including over 288,000 in Mali, more than 265,000 in Niger and over one million in Burkina Faso, which is now home to the world’s fastest-growing displacement crisis.
A record 13.4 million people need humanitarian assistance across the border areas of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger—the area known as Central Sahel.
In Mali, the number of people who needed humanitarian assistance between January and August 2020 rose from 4.3 million to 6.8 million, meaning one in three people in Mali needs emergency aid.
In Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, the number of reported fatalities has risen sharply over the last year; more than 6,600 people were killed over the last 12 months.
Last year 81 aid workers were wounded, kidnapped or killed in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, according to the Aid Worker Security Database. In 2019 the number of attacks on aid workers in Mali was double the number in 2018.
Human rights violations, including sexual and gender-based violence and attacks against children, have spiked over the past year. For example, Mali recorded 571 grave violations against children during the first three quarters of 2019, compared to 544 in 2018 and 386 in 2017, according to a UN human rights agency.
This year, more than seven million children in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger need humanitarian assistance, up from 4.3 million children. This is even as an estimated 7.4 million1 people are struggling with crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity during the current lean season.
That is three times more acutely food insecure people than one year ago. Compared to the average of the last five years, acute food insecurity has increased by a staggering 514 per cent in Burkina Faso, 130 per cent in Mali and 144 per cent in Niger.
More than 150 health centres in Central Sahel are closed or not fully functioning, leaving millions of people without access to adequate services.
More than 4,000 schools2 are closed because of direct attacks on education infrastructure and personnel. In Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, over eight million children aged between 6 and 14 are out of school, which represents almost 55 per cent of children in this age group.
Between 2018 and 2020 the number of internally displaced people increased more than twentyfold, from 70,000 to almost 1.6 million. In addition, there are currently 122,000 refugees.
In Burkina Faso, armed violence has forced more than one million people to flee their homes since the crisis escalated two years ago. This includes 400,000 people who were newly displaced in 2020.
As of this October 7, the humanitarian response plans for assistance to Central Sahel this year were only 39 per cent funded. A further $2.4 billion is urgently needed to save and protect the lives of the most vulnerable people in the region this year and next.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is already warning that unless humanitarian access is urgently granted to organisations like it, catastrophic levels of hunger could hit hard in parts of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.
The stark warning came ahead of the High-Level Ministerial Conference on the Central Sahel in Copenhagen this Tuesday.
The government of Denmark, in partnership with the government of Germany, the European Union and the UN, is hosting a high-level humanitarian event on the Central Sahel.
The high-level event will feature a ministerial round table that will take place on Tuesday, 20 October 2020, which follows up on a virtual senior officials’ meeting held on September 8 that focused on operational lessons learned and forward-looking plans relating to humanitarian action, development and peace efforts, including special attention to the impact and consequences of COVID-19.
WFP Regional Director for West Africa, Chris Nikoi, says “when we can’t get to vulnerable communities, we’re seeing tragic spikes in food insecurity and thousands of people pushed into further destitution in the Sahel.
“There are over ten thousand people who are currently one step short of famine in parts of northern Burkina Faso made inaccessible by dreadful violence and conflict. The world cannot wait to take action until children, women and men have died.”
The ability of humanitarian organisations to deliver assistance to those most in need has been jeopardised by worsening conflict and insecurity. Meanwhile, aid workers are also increasingly targeted by non-state armed groups in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.
This means that needy communities are unable to access life-saving humanitarian assistance on which they so desperately depend in times of crisis.
WFP, the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, is urging participants at the conference to find ways for organisations to engage with communities and all actors on the ground, opening up safe passageways for humanitarian assistance to reach those in need.
It has continued to ramp up lifesaving assistance in response to the deepening crisis and growing needs – assisting over 3.4 million people in August alone.
WFP has also scaled up to meet the growing needs in Burkina, the financial outlook is worrying. WFP was already forced to reduce rations from July 2020 and risks a break for emergency assistance to displaced people – who have fled their homes farms and jobs and have no other options – by November.
To maintain operations in the three Central Sahel countries, WFP needs $135.7 million over the next six months.
At the same time, WFP is working to strengthen resilience-building support for at-risk communities. WFP interventions include the rehabilitation of community assets, improving degraded lands, school feeding and community-based nutrition activities for the prevention and treatment of malnutrition.
Since 2018, more than one million people have benefitted from WFP’s integrated resilience activities in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso.