10 Million Children In Sahel Need Aid, Stronger Humanitarian Response Needed

On Friday, March 17th, The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that there are around ten million children in central Sahel that are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. This is due to the escalating conflict in Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso. This violence has now started to spread into neighboring countries, endangering another four million children. It is imperative that the international community bolster their humanitarian response to this crisis before even more than the region is put at risk.

UNICEF regional director for Western and Central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier, stated that “children are increasingly caught up in the armed conflict as victims of intensifying military clashes, or targeted by non-state armed groups.” In a report sent out on Friday, UNICEF stated that these armed groups are now “sabotaging water networks…cutting power lines,” and “in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have been directly targeting schools, in an accelerating attack on education,” leading to school closures. Furthermore, the report expressed that “since 2021, non-state armed groups have destroyed food reserves in a region that is among the hungriest and most malnourished on the planet,” creating major food scarcity.

According to UNICEF and UN data, “this armed conflict has driven nearly 2.7 million people off their land into displacement camps or vulnerable host communities across the three countries,” and “the insecurity and displacement [is] also spilling over … placing nearly 4 million children at risk in four West African coastal countries – Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo.”

These clashes are now threatening the lives of children, access to services, and institutions in general. Furthermore, this region is plagued with water and food scarcity, in addition to a changing climate. If this keeps escalating, the crisis will continue to spillover to even more countries.

According to Aljazeera, the violence, which first took root in Mali in a 2012 uprising, has spread throughout Sahel and now to West African countries. UNICEF reported that “2022 was particularly violent for children in the central Sahel, almost certainly the deadliest since armed conflict broke out in northern Mali.” Aljazeera also stated that central Sahel has become very unstable since ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda-affiliated groups started to fight for power. UNICEF expressed that in the beginning of the crisis these armed groups made an effort to spare children and civilians, however, their tactics have since changed to inflicting the maximum number of casualties. In addition, the insecurity in the region has led to an increase in community self-defence groups and other militia, and that the armed groups see these groups as supported by communities, so they attack fighters and civilians.

This crisis is happening in a region that is very impacted by intense climate change, and lack of access to water and food. These escalating clashes and spillover into other states is very concerning, and a more secure and collective humanitarian response by the international community is needed. In order to fully address the risks these children face, the humanitarian response needs to centre on the root issues such as the failing infrastructure and access to services.