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‘The Sahel – a Microcosm of Cascading Global Risks Converging in One Region’

The crisis in the Sahel has been further exacerbated by both climate change, as well as the current coronavirus pandemic. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

The crisis in the Sahel has been further exacerbated by both climate change, as well as the current coronavirus pandemic. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 22 2020 (IPS) - The European Commission this week pledged $27.8 million in humanitarian support to the Sahel region as floods and the coronavirus pandemic exacerbate the stability in a region deeply in conflict.

While the figure is less than 2 percent of the $2.4 billion that the United Nations has appealed for, Amnesty International researcher Ousmane Diallo told IPS that despite past donations from international development partners to Sahelian countries, the situation hasn’t improved over the years.

Diallo, a Sahel specialist at the human rights organisation, spoke to IPS a day after European leaders gathered to discuss the fast deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Central Sahel.

In June, Amnesty International released a report that pointed out a range of concerns in the region that have been exacerbated by the pandemic: human rights violations, food insecurity, and enforced disappearances among other concerns.

At the meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 20, the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres appealed for $2.4 billion for the remaining months of 2020 and for providing emergency assistance in the region throughout next year.

“The Sahel is a microcosm of cascading global risks converging in one region. It is a warning sign for us all requiring urgent attention and resolution,” the Secretary-General said.

To highlight the extent of the crisis, he shared that in the less than two years, internal displacement in the region has increased 20 times.

Diallo of Amnesty International echoed similar concerns and added that a “a plethora of armed groups acting in the Sahel have increased over the years.”

“This is because the structural issues have not been challenged,” Diallo told IPS. “Because there have been a lot of donations given to Sahelian countries, many activities done by international development partners, but the situations on the ground haven’t improved. There are more internally displaced persons (IDPs) on the ground, and more refugees.”

“This is a crisis on multiple fronts, [and] next to its growing complexity, it’s also a crisis which remains seriously underfunded,” Janez Lenarcic, Commissioner for Crisis Management at the European Commission, said while announcing the pledge. “As such, the need to protect the most vulnerable from these pressing plights has never been greater.” 

The crisis in the region has been further exacerbated by both climate change, as well as the current coronavirus pandemic, according to both Diallo and the speakers at the high-level meeting.

Mark Lowcock, the U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said climate change in the Sahel region is accelerating faster than anywhere else in the world.One key concern, he said, is that the “root causes that drive humanitarian needs” — such as chronic poverty, underdevelopment, impact of dramatic development growth, and climate change among other issues — are not being properly addressed

Diallo told IPS that on top of climate change posing a security and development challenge in the region, another concern is that of resources: despite an increasing population, resources remain limited.

With massive floods leading to thousands of casualties in cities across the Sahel region this year, one must consider issues beyond the scope of human rights and humanitarian [needs], and consider links to governance, urbanisation and city planning, Diallo added.

“Over the last 30 years, we’ve had more cities, more urbanisation, and more people living in the cities in the Sahelian countries than they used to 20-30 years ago, but the adaptability of cities to climatic [changes] is very limited,” Diallo told IPS.   

Speakers at the high-level meeting highlighted the need for a comprehensive and holistic approach to resolving the crisis.

Giovanie Biha, Deputy Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel, U.N. Office for West Africa and the Sahel, said the August coup in Mali is “testament to the fragility of newly-acquired democratic gains”.

“There is a need for a paradigm shift beyond a largely military approach to the fight against terrorists,” Biha said at the meeting. “Successfully addressing the multi-dimensional challenges facing the Sahel will require a whole-of-society approach.”

“We need to redouble efforts in supporting national governments and recognise that development is never a linear process, especially when faced with interlinked challenges compounded by the pandemic,” she added, further calling for innovating solutions to address the crisis.

Lowcock highlighted the need for a higher investment in concerns such as women’s rights, and safe water, among others.

“It’s important that we have a comprehensive response to this: there needs to be a security response but it has to be done in a way that protects and supports the local communities,” he said.


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