Crisis in the Central Sahel
Advocacy Brief | January 2020
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Attacks on children and violence across the Central Sahel continue to surge and more than 4.3 million children are now in need of humanitarian assistance. This advocacy brief highlights the impact of the insecurity on children and their families, advocating for attacks and threats to stop, and for critical human and financial resources needed to respond to the massive and acute needs. Read the crisis overview.
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An unfolding emergency
The Sahel has long been one of the most vulnerable regions in Africa. But the surge in armed violence across Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger is having a devastating impact on children’s survival, education, protection and development.
The sharp increase in armed attacks on communities, schools, health centres and other public institutions and infrastructure has reached unprecedented levels, with violence disrupting livelihoods and access to social services. Growing insecurity has also exacerbated already chronic vulnerabilities in the region, including high levels of malnutrition, poor access to clean water and sanitation facilities.
Close to 5 million children in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger will need humanitarian assistance over the course of 2020, up from 4.3 million in 2019. Renewed, increased and concerted efforts are needed to curb the ongoing violence and to stop it from spreading into neighbouring countries.
Central Sahel crisis at a glance
What’s happening in the Central Sahel?
Over the past two years, armed groups have intensified attacks in parts of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. As of November 2019, 1.2 million people were displaced, more than half of them children. This represents a two-fold increase in the number of people displaced by insecurity and armed conflict in the countries of the Central Sahel in the past 12 months.
How are children being affected?
Since the start of 2019, more than 670,000 children across the region have been forced to flee their homes because of armed conflict and insecurity. Children and their families fleeing conflict are at greater risk of violence, exploitation and recruitment by non-state armed groups, and more prone to negative coping mechanisms such as child marriage. This comes in addition to a significant increase of violence against children who are caught in the crossfire, with hundreds having been killed, maimed, or forcibly separated from their families.
Education under fire
Education was already a major challenge across the affected countries. But across the Central Sahel, attacks and threats on schools and against teachers and students have become more common, worsening access to education. Between April 2017 and December 2019, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger witnessed a six-fold increase in school closures due to violence. More than 3,300 schools were closed as of December 2019, affecting almost 650,000 children and more than 16,000 teachers.
UNICEF urges states to protect education and uphold the principles of the Safe Schools Declaration, which calls for stopping attacks on schools, education facilities and personnel; work to create protective learning environments; and follow guidelines for protecting schools from use by military or nonstate armed groups during conflicts.
UNICEF also calls on:
- Governments, armed forces, non-state armed groups and other parties to the conflict and the international community to take concerted action to stop attacks and threats against schools, students, teachers and other school personnel – and to support quality learning for every child.
- Governments, communities and the private sector to work together to increase efforts to provide education, protection and psychosocial support to children, including refugees, migrants and displaced girls and boys.
- Governments and partners to diversify available options for quality education and provide children with alternative ways of earning recognized qualifications that reflect different cultural contexts.
A protection crisis
Thousands of schools and other social services structures have been closed or are not functioning, leaving tens of thousands of children with little support and increasing their risk of being recruited by armed groups. Those who have been forcibly displaced are at greater risk of being separated from their caregivers and are more likely to face sexual and physical violence.
- For all survivors of sexual abuse and gender-based violence to be assisted with services that are timely and sensitive to their needs. This includes providing age- and sex-appropriate medical care, psychosocial support, legal assistance as well as opportunities for livelihoods, life skills and education.
- On governments and security forces to respect children’s rights, avoid the detention of children or use it only as a last resort within the framework of internationally accepted standards for child justice.
- On governments and their partners to ensure that families are kept together and children are rapidly reunited with their parents or provided with safe alternative care based on the best interests of the child.
Voices from the region
Vital social services disrupted
Access to health care, nutritious foods, safe drinking water and other social services has been seriously compromised, impacting all aspects of children’s lives – their safety, health and wellbeing. Displaced children and their families are being hosted in communities that had limited access to social services even before the current crisis, which has put a further strain on communities.
Ongoing violence and insecurity damage and weaken health systems, disrupt the delivery of routine health care and divert scarce human and financial resources from health to security priorities. And when displaced women, children and host communities don’t have access to basic health services or clean water and sanitation, they are at higher risk of contracting infectious diseases like acute respiratory infections, diarrhea, malaria and measles – all leading causes of child mortality.
Food insecurity, compounded by limited access to health services and safe drinking water, as well as poor knowledge on optimal child feeding practices, is having a serious impact on the health of children in the region. Without access to proper nutrition now, communities will find it even harder to bounce back in the future.
UNICEF calls on:
- Governments to increase or at least maintain national commitments for social services budgets. As conflicts have worsened, governments have been focusing on security while cutbacks on investments for social services have a direct impact on access to education, health, nutrition and water and sanitation.
- Governments and their partners to invest in durable solutions for the prevention and care of malnutrition including promoting the availability, access and use of nutritious, safe, affordable and sustainable foods.
- UNICEF also urges all parties to protect medical and education facilities and personnel, and to facilitate access to social services and humanitarian assistance, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.
How is UNICEF helping?
UNICEF is on the ground in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, working with partners to provide children with urgently needed support and services in protection, education, health, nutrition, water and sanitation. In the first eight months of 2019, results for UNICEF and partners included:
- Supporting the treatment of nearly 40,000 children with severe acute malnutrition, and vaccinating almost 90,000 children against measles, in Burkina Faso.
- Reaching more than 90,000 children in Mali with psychosocial support and vaccinating more than 900,000 children for measles.
- Reaching almost 390,00 people in Niger with hygiene kits and/or promotion and sensitization campaigns and providing learning materials to more than 30,000 children.