The Sahel region of Africa is south of the dry Sahara and north of the humid Sudanian savanna. This tropical, semiarid zone consists of a band of 10 countries and spans 5,900 kilometers from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. People living in this region have suffered instability and unrest due to issues such as terrorism, climate change and food insecurity. Moreover, COVID-19 has only intensified these problems. Here are five facts to know about the crisis in the Sahel:
5 Facts About the Crisis in the Sahel
- Violence in the region is on the rise. The Africa Center for Strategic Studies reported that militant, Islamist group activity and violence in the western Sahel escalated since the middle of 2017, growing nearly seven-fold. Due to inadequate governance and intercommunal violence, 4,404 fatalities were recorded west of Sahel compared with the 770 deaths in 2016. Terrorist attacks forced displacement upon 900,000 people in Burkina Faso alone, where 516 violent attacks occurred in the past three years. Meanwhile, a disputed election and a coup following months of protests currently corrupt conflict-ridden Mali. The region harbors 3.1 million refugees, internally displaced persons, returnees and people at risk of statelessness.
- Widespread hunger is becoming an increasingly prominent threat. Humanitarian organizations warn of a hunger pandemic in the Sahel. As food insecurity and malnutrition rates continue to soar rapidly, more than 12 million people already lack access to food. Around 10 million additional children could suffer from acute malnutrition and 3 million from protein-energy starvation, due to the exacerbating effects of COVID-19. The U.N. predicts that 5.5 million people will lack access to sufficient food by the end of the year in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso.
- Accessibility to education is declining. School closures affect more than 2.2 million children in the Sahel. In March, 11,500 schools closed or were rendered nonoperational. This left 71 million children without access to education. Although various schools closed due to the COVID-19 lockdown procedures, some institutions forced students out. The forced dispelling, due to attacks and threats from extremists.
- Climate change is endangering the country’s physical and economic well-being. A steep environmental decline through rapid desertification, deforestation and water shortages is currently threatening Africa’s Sahel region. Climate changes are causing drought and widespread crop failures in the region. As a consequence, there is a forcible displacement of millions of rural people as they move toward the coasts in search of fertile, farming land.
- Uncontrolled population growth is pressuring the region’s resources. Extraordinary population growth challenges the Sahel region. The population in the region will approximately double within 30 years. In some countries, the growth potential is even greater. Niger, for example, could triple the number of its inhabitants in 35–40 years. Moreover, due to high fertility rates and the youngest age structure in the world, many terrorist groups see an opportunity in exploiting the plentiful supply of youth in the Sahel.
A Global Commitment to Change
Due to the displacement crisis in the Sahel, 24 million people — with half of those being children — urgently need access to essential health services. According to OCHA, $2.8 billion would effectively provide aid to these impoverished individuals in the Sahel. An extra $638 million would adequately mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 in the region. The $2.8 million investment would help increase employment and political stability. Furthermore, it would assist refugees and implement new and ongoing programs in the Sahel.
France and the G5 (the five Sahel countries: Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad) held a meeting to acknowledge the crisis. The main issues being, instability and terrorist threats pervading the Sahel. The participants committed to a strategy that focuses on combating terrorism and creating sustainable change through institutional reform.
A Final Outlook
The Sahel is the most impoverished region globally and faces challenges from persistent threats. Additionally, COVID-19 threatens to exacerbate previous issues and is estimated to forcibly displace 1 million people across the Sahel region. One surefire way that the Sahel will steadily improve is through support from the U.S. and other nations to fund programs for more effective governance, healthcare and education.
– Isabella Thorpe