The Sahel region of Africa, which spans the continent and includes nine countries that are located between the Sahara and the Sudanian Savannah, has seen widespread flooding following prolonged periods of heavy rain since seasonal rains began in August. These rains are thought to be the most severe that the region has seen in the last decade and Niger, according to the UN, has been affected most severely, with 71 deaths and over 350,000 people affected by these latest floods to date. The severe damage and destruction seen as a result of the floods has not only led to tragic deaths but is leaving people homeless and often without a source of income, as well as leading many to flee. This latest crisis also comes amidst a surge in violence across the Sahel that has been troubling the region in recent years and months, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. Flooding has also caused damage to health centres and will thereby impede the national response and treatment not only of COVID-19 but also of diseases like cholera and malaria.
The conflicts and violence that have been a reality in regions and countries throughout the Sahel region have been on the rise in recent years. The Guardian reported that in 2019 there were more than 4000 deaths across the region as a result of this violence, in what Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel, described as “a devastating surge in terrorist attacks against civilian and military targets.” Furthermore, United Nations statistics on violence in the region have shown that attacks have increased fivefold in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso since 2016. Analysis by the European Union describes four armed conflicts that are currently taking place in the Sahel, in addition to seven other so-called ‘violence spots’ in seven Sahel countries. Much of the violence is attributed to what is described by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) as Non-State Armed Groups (NSAGs) as well as organized crime. Countries where the conflict is most severe, namely in Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, and the Lake Chad basin, have also seen extreme food shortages in recent years, leaving its vulnerable population in crisis. The UN estimates that there are over 3.5 million internally and internationally displaced people as a result of conflict and its consequent challenges in the region. Furthermore, the IOM reports that 3 million people are thought to be impacted by food insecurity and EU articles indicate up to 2.5 million children in the Sahel are at risk of severe acute malnutrition. In addition to existing challenges of violence, poverty and food shortages, the COVID-19 crisis, and now devastating floods, present an additional threat to those already vulnerable in the region. Aside from the impacts on health, it is worried that these will exacerbate existing political and economic issues in the region.
It is clear that the region is in crisis, and that support from the international community in supporting the countries for bolstering their own healthcare and infrastructure systems is crucial at this time. It is difficult to make recommendations to try and counter the violence and the groups carrying out attacks and violent acts. As reported in the Guardian interventions over the past seven years by French troops, US special forces, and a UN peacekeeping operation were not able to bring about large-scale change, leaving the violence to persist.
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