The crisis in Central Sahel
Advocacy brief | October 2020
The surge in armed violence across Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger is having a devastating impact on children’s survival, education, protection and development: 7.2 million children are in need of humanitarian assistance. The Sahel, a region of immense potential, has long been one of the most vulnerable regions in Africa, home to some countries with the lowest development indicators globally. The COVID-19 pandemic adds further risks to the plight and safety of millions of children already affected by the humanitarian crisis.
This advocacy brief highlights the impact of the insecurity and COVID-19 on children and their families, advocating for attacks and threats to stop, and for critical human and financial resources to respond to the massive and acute needs, as well as increase access to basic social services for children.
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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 coupled with the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak has exacerbated already chronic vulnerabilities in the region, including high levels of malnutrition, poor access to clean water and sanitation facilities.
7.2 million children in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger are in need humanitarian assistance, 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
Over the past 2 years armed groups have intensified attacks in parts of Burkina
Faso, Mali and Niger. Insecurity is spreading at a rapid pace. Women and children
are bearing the brunt of the violence.
The impact on education
Education is a major challenge across the affected countries. Across the Central Sahel, attacks and threats on schools and against teachers and students are becoming more and more common, which further worsens the situation of children. In addition, COVID-19 is making the critical situation for children in the Central Sahel – particularly girls, displaced children and those living in the street – even worse.
Since end of March 2020, schools have been fully or partially closed across all three countries to limit the spread of the coronavirus, affecting the education of millions of children temporarily out of school. Already in the region, 8.3 million children, 6-14 years, were out of school and out of reach for distance learning. Between April 2017 and July 2020, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger witnessed a seven-fold increase in school closures due to violence.
The impact on child protection
This complex emergency is a crisis of children’s care and protection. Children and their families fleeing conflict are at greater risk of violence, exploitation and recruitment by non-state armed groups.
In 2019, in Mali alone, 745 grave violations against children were recorded by the United Nations, including recruitment by armed groups, killing, maiming, rape and other sexual violence, attacks on schools and hospitals, abductions and denial of access to humanitarian services – the highest number recorded since 2017.
The insecurity adds to the already significant chronic challenges children face in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. For children who have been forcibly displaced, there is an increasing risk of separation from their caregivers, and of sexual and physical violence, exacerbating existing inequalities.
The impact on basic social services
Access to basic services, including health care, nutrition, education, 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 even before the crisis had limited access to social services, putting a further strain on these communities.
- Many children continue to miss out on routine immunization because of armed violence and insecurity, which damage and weaken health systems, disrupt the delivery of routine health care and divert scarce human and financial resources from health to security priorities.
- The number of children, 6-59 months, to suffer from global and severe acute malnutrition in 2020 could rise by a further 21 per cent in the Central Sahel countries, bringing the total number of malnourished children in the three countries to 2.9 million, including 890,000 children at risk of severe acute malnutrition.
- The sharp increase in displaced populations during 2019 and insecurity have placed Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) infrastructures in host communities under pressure. Within a year, the number of people in need of WASH humanitarian assistance has almost doubled, reaching a total of 6.7 million by end of June 2020.