The Sahel: Information Sheet (March 2016)



In the Sahel, extreme poverty, fastgrowing populations, climate change, recurrent food and nutrition crises, armed conflicts and insecurity are building up to a perfect storm threatening the lives of communities already living on the brink of crisis.

The region is one of the world’s climate change hotspots. Increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, more frequent droughts and floods and land degradation threaten the livelihoods of a population in which the majority relies on agriculture for survival.

Environmental shocks, insecurity, chronic hunger and malnutrition have a dangerously symbiotic relationship in the Sahel. A spike in armed conflict and violence worsens the Sahel’s chronic hardship and has led to new peaks in displacement across the region. Lack of opportunities and unemployment, deteriorating security, economic and social inequality expose youths to risks of radicalization and recruitment. Many seek brighter prospects elsewhere, fueling the global migration crisis.

Faced with serious threats, Governments risk channeling more resources to address security challenges at the expense of social development. Past gains and future development prospects are at stake. If these challenges remain unaddressed, the prospects for the region are dire, and the most vulnerable communities will suffer the most.



Although their region has contributed the least to global carbon emissions,
Sahelians are paying a steep price for the consequences of human-induced climate change. Experts predict that West Africa and the Sahel are becoming a “hotspot” of climate change, with unprecedented climates not seen in the rest of the world. Analysing exposure to extreme events, vulnerabilities and adaptive capacity, experts identify Chad, Niger and Nigeria amongst countries at “extreme climate risk”. All other Sahel countries will be facing a “high risk”. Considering the fragility of its economies, reliance on natural resources, fast population growth and weak governance, the repeated exposure to extreme climate risks further deteriorating the region’s existing vulnerabilities.


The impact of climate change is already being felt. Over the past decades, growing climate fluctuations and more frequent shocks have pushed Sahelians on the brink of humanitarian disasters.
Over the past two decades, the start of the rainy season has become erratic, annual precipitation amounts variable, with longer drought periods. Extreme weather events such as floods are more frequent and severe. The regional climate trends observed over the last 40 years show that overall average temperatures have risen. The most recent severe drought, in 2012, was the third to hit the Sahel in less than a decade. With climate shocks coming at a higher rate, vulnerable households are increasingly less able to cope with crises and struggle to recover in time before they are hit again. Many have to adopt survival strategies, such as selling livestock, cutting down on meals or taking children out of school, which is making them more vulnerable over time. Today, vulnerability is such that millions of households require only a relatively small shock to fall into crisis.


The population of the Sahel grows at a runaway rate of an average 3.5 per cent every year, doubling every three decades. Experts fear that available food resources will not be sufficient to sustain a growing population. Projections estimate that twice more cereals will need to be available to sustain the food needs of the population by 2050. Water for the region’s agriculture –which 98 percent is rainfed- is getting scarcer.

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