Thank you, Heba.
Thanks in particular to the Governments of Denmark and Germany, and to the European Union for hosting this important meeting on the humanitarian situation in the Central Sahel. Thank you also to representatives from Burkina Faso and the Republics of Niger and Mali for joining us today. And thanks to partners for all the side events held last week on priority issues.
We are here to raise awareness, to raise funding, and to agree on concrete policy commitments to address the root causes of the Sahel crisis. That is our only real option if we want to avoid far more human suffering.
Life in the Central Sahel continues to get much harder for millions of people. I said last week in a virtual lecture at Sciences Po that nowhere in the world worries me as much as the Sahel in the medium-term. I fear the region is very close to a tipping point, with ripple effects that could reach neighboring countries and further afield. A preventable tragedy is looming.
We’ve seen a sharp deterioration over the past two years - humanitarian needs in the central Sahel are higher than they have ever been. And the rate at which needs have increased is truly alarming.
Right now in the central Sahel, the number of people forcibly displaced has risen more than twentyfold in the last two years. More than seven million people have been pushed into acute hunger.
All told, more than thirteen million people need emergency assistance to survive. Five million of them are children.
And as is so often the case, women and girls are at the sharpest end of this crisis. Girls leave school, often with little prospect of returning. They are subject to exploitation and abuse, forced into early marriage and recruited into armed groups. Women in the central Sahel face some of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates.
How did we reach this point?
Well, the root causes that drive humanitarian need are not being properly addressed.
Root causes like chronic poverty and underdevelopment.
Demographic growth, which creates societal pressure in the absence of basic social services, economic diversification and opportunity.
Climate change, which is accelerating faster in the Sahel than in most other parts of the world.
We see desertification, shrinking water and arable land resources, and erratic rainfall patterns that cause flooding and droughts all drive up humanitarian need and feed conflict dynamics in complex ways.
That brings me to one of the most critical drivers of humanitarian need in the central Sahel: poorly managed conflict and violence. Civilians are threatened by intercommunal conflict between farmers and herders who see their livelihoods under pressure; by violent criminal gangs and illicit networks; and by extremist groups who use terror as a tactic of choice.
The people of this region are often trapped on all sides.
What must be done?
To date, the international community – everyone here today – has focused the most effort on short-term humanitarian aid alongside security interventions. Both are necessary, but much more is needed.
I laid out several pillars of necessary action last week at Sciences Po.
We need to see a security response that is conducted in a way which protects, supports and wins the backing of local communities.
We need to see the international community and national authorities make far bigger investments in basic services, especially education, health, clean water, sanitation and family planning.
And we need to adapt to the pressures of climate change and demographic growth by continuing to improve agricultural productivity, adopting urban planning, and investing in sustainable economies that take into account the impact of climate change.
And – more relevant to why we are gathered here today- we need to see a much more serious effort to address existing humanitarian need and prevent more from emerging The humanitarian system is extremely effective at getting help to the people who need it most.
But we can only address as much need as funding allows.
Since 2010 the Central Emergency Response Fund has provided nearly $392 million to help aid reach those most in need in these three countries.
With the $568 million donors have contributed to UN-coordinated humanitarian appeals to for Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger this year, humanitarian organizations have vaccinated millions of children and treated millions of malnourished babies. We have provided cash, food, shelter and water for destitute families. And helped educate thousands of out-of-school children.
But we need a further $2.4 billion until the end of 2021.
So in closing, my message to you is two-fold.
First, I hope that donors here today give generously to ensure we are able to meet rapidly growing humanitarian need.
And second, please keep the Sahel higher on your policy agenda, and pay far more attention to addressing the root drivers of the Sahel crisis. Without those efforts, humanitarian need will only continue to grow.
Doing all of this to scale is needed and indeed no small feat.
But the people of Sahel are not giving up on striving for a better future for their children. The world needs to stand in solidarity. It is the both the right thing and the smart thing to do.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.