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Sahel 2018: Overview of Humanitarian Needs and Requirements

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Acute rainfall deficits last season in several regions of the Sahel, and worsening insecurity have escalated humanitarian needs.

Drought has prematurely thrust pastoralist communities into the lean season, with herders migrating earlier than usual. Growing insecurity in Mali and armed attacks in border regions with Burkina Faso and Niger have uprooted hundreds of families in recent months, adding to the devastation by the long-running conflict around the Lake Chad Basin.

Swaths of pastoral and agro-pastoral regions are suffering severe pasture and water deficits. Around 2.5 million pastoralists and agro-pastoralists are at risk of serious livelihood crisis in 2018.

Mauritania, and parts of Burkina Faso, Chad, Senegal and Mali are the worst affected in the Sahel.
Armed attacks, banditry and intercommunity conflict have increased in Mali’s central regions. In areas unaffected by conflict, chronic vulnerabilities persist. In the Lake Chad Basin, humanitarian needs will remain high in 2018 and beyond. In areas worst hit by violence, almost 500,000 children are severely acutely malnourished and 5.8 million people are struggling with high levels of food insecurity.

In 2018, 24 million people will need humanitarian assistance in the Sahel. Some 32 million people are at risk of, or struggling with food insecurity – among them 10.8 million severely food insecure – and 4.7 million children are malnourished. Over 5 million refugees, internally displaced people and returnees are grappling with the consequences of forced displacement.

Sahel countries count among the world’s most at risk of crises and disasters. Increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, frequent droughts and floods and land degradation threaten the livelihoods of highly vulnerable communities. Food insecurity and malnutrition are often high and widespread, with seasonal peaks pushing millions into crisis. In the last decade, a spike in armed conflict and violence has worsened chronic needs, uprooted entire communities and disrupted livelihoods.

To address the most urgent needs across the region, humanitarians will need US$2.7 billion in 2018. In five countries – Cameroon, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Nigeria – aid organisations and Governments have developed response plans to provide life-saving assistance and help communities rebuild livelihoods. In Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Senegal, humanitarian work plans address acute peaks, while preparing the full integration of relief response in longer-term strategies that address the structural causes of vulnerability.

Humanitarian action across the region is progressively adopting the New Way of Working. Response strategies this year are further strengthening collaboration with Governments and development actors to provide urgent relief assistance and tackle the causes of recurrent emergencies. The Sahel humanitarian response is aligned with the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS) priorities, which recognise the importance of the humanitariandevelopment and security-peace nexus and enshrines a proactive crisis prevention-oriented approach. The UNISS support plan seeks to address common humanitarian/security concerns in the Sahel, particularly the Lake Chad Basin areas, northern Mali and the Liptako-Gourma region.

Only concerted and sustained efforts by all actors can bring peace, security, and development, improve human rights, uplift Sahel’s most vulnerable inhabitants from recurrent crises, and create stable conditions for communities and families to prosper.



Conflict remains one of the main drivers of humanitarian emergencies in the Sahel. Increased hostilities could heighten humanitarian needs in the region, where 24 million require assistance this year.
The deteriorating insecurity has in recent months opened a new front. Regions in Burkina Faso and Niger bordering Mali have come under a rising spate of armed attacks that have devastated communities and forced thousands of people to flee their homes. In 2017, around 90 incidents of insecurity were recorded in Burkina Faso, forcing 141 schools to shut and affecting thousands of children. Villages in Niger’s western Tillabéri and Tahoua regions have also suffered multiple attacks that have uprooted residents. Burkina Faso and Niger respectively host 23,000 and 56,000 Malian refugees.

Mali and the Lake Chad Basin remain the region’s prominent conflict hotspots. In Mali, insecurity is spreading from the northern to the central regions. Clashes between armed groups, banditry and intercommunal violence recurrently cause displacements. Some 5.1 million people – more than 27 per cent of the country’s population – live in the areas affected by insecurity. Currently 59,000 people are displaced within the country, and almost one in five Malians is food insecure. While humanitarian assistance has enabled hundreds of thousands of people to survive, the situation remains critical. In 2018, aid groups will assist around 1.6 million people, 200,000 more than the previous year.

Across the conflict-hit Lake Chad Basin, around 2.2 million people have been displaced. Millions of people are grappling with hunger, poor living conditions in displacement sites and other adversity unleashed by the nine-year-long conflict. Humanitarian action has saved many lives, but millions of people still require relief assistance to survive and rebuild their livelihoods.

As humanitarians strive to assist Sahel’s vulnerable populations, Governments are making efforts to tackle extremist violence. The establishment of the G5 Sahel Joint Force hopes to address a key factor of regional instability. However, military operations could complicate humanitarian access, underscoring the need for dialogue and coordination between humanitarian and military actors.


Following poor rains in 2017, Mauritania and parts of Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Mauritania and Senegal are witnessing severe pasture and water shortages. In these areas, the lean season has begun early and will last longer. Many pastoralist communities, who make up 30 per cent of Sahel’s population, begun migrating earlier than usual and will face a tough lean season as their resources dwindle. The early transhumance is exacerbating vulnerability. Meat and milk production has declined, livelihoods taken a hit and food prices are increasing. Terms of trade between cereals and livestock is unfavourable for herders. For instance, in Mali, Mauritania and Niger it dropped by 15 - 50 per cent compared to December 2016. In areas where pastoralists have moved into, the additional herds are exerting pressure on limited water and pasture and the likelihood of intercommunity tensions increased.

Across the region, food insecurity will remain high owing to the effects of poor rainfall, transhumance restrictions, high staple food prices and increasing displacement by conflict. For children, worsening food security will create additional hurdles such as learning difficulties or school retention, as parents are unable to afford fees and need their children to stay at home to work.


Malnutrition also remains prevalent in the region and is expected to deteriorate if early and sustained actions are not taken. Poor access to healthcare, water, sanitation, education and other basic services has left millions of children suffering from acute malnutrition. Some 4.7 million children are likely to face acute malnutrition. Global and severe acute malnutrition rates have surpassed the emergency threshold in parts of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal. The drought that has also caused crisis among Sahel’s pastoralist communities is likely to increase the already high malnutrition rates. Education can play a key role in malnutrition prevention programmes by assisting children in school and their young parents with nutrition education, malnutrition screening services and prevention packages for the household.


Humanitarian needs remain high in the Sahel, home to some of the world’s most protracted and severe crises. The impact of climate change, armed conflict and insecurity, underdevelopment and poverty subject millions of people to severe hardship. Around one in five people requiring humanitarian assistance in the world resides in the Sahel, and 16 per cent of the region’s 150 million inhabitants needs help.

The number of people uprooted, mainly by conflict, has nearly tripled in the past four years, rising from 1.8 million in 2014 to more than 5 million this year. Humanitarian response budget has hovered around $2 billion over the same period. In 2018, Sahel’s budget accounts for 12 per cent of the $22.5 billion global humanitarian financial requirement.

Progressively adopting the New Way of Working, humanitarian, Governments and development actors in the region have developed strategies to respond to the humanitarian emergency and address the causes of Sahel’s recurrent crises. Donor support has been critical in saving lives. 2018 is expected to be a very difficult year not only for pastoralist communities but also for thousands of communities who rely on markets for access to food in the Sahel. Accelerated efforts by all actors are crucial in reducing human suffering and restoring livelihoods.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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