Ten million children threatened by insecurity in the central Sahel, according to UNICEF
Issouf Sanogo Agence France-Presse Children displaced by a jihadist attack in Burkina Faso, the October 6
Ten million children living in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger are in urgent need of humanitarian aid. This is twice as many as in 2020, due to the intensification of conflicts, UNICEF said on Friday.
Burkina Faso, the scene of two military coups in 2022, has been caught since 2015 in a spiral of jihadist violence that appeared in Mali and Niger a few years earlier and which has spread beyond their borders.
Nearly four million children are at risk in the neighboring countries of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, estimates UNICEF in a report.
“Armed conflict increasingly affects children, who are victims of escalating military clashes or targeted by non-state armed groups,” said UNICEF Regional Director for East Africa. West and Central, Marie-Pierre Poirier, in a press release.
“The year 2022 has been particularly violent for the children of the central Sahel. All parties to the conflict must urgently end the attacks on them, but also on their schools, health centers and homes,” she continues.
According to the UN agency, armed groups opposed to the state-run education system are burning and looting schools, but also threatening, kidnapping or executing teachers.
More than 8,300 schools have closed their doors in the three countries (Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger), either because they have been targeted, or because the parents have been displaced or are afraid to send their children there.
'Catastrophic' food insecurity
In Burkina Faso, data collected by the United Nations showed that the number of children killed in the first nine months of 2022 tripled compared to the same period in 2021.
Most of these children have died from gunshot wounds during attacks on their village or have been victims of improvised explosive devices or munitions.
This crisis is taking place in one of the most affected by climate change, with rising temperatures and more erratic rainfall leading to flooding.
At the same time, some armed groups resort to tactics consisting of blockading towns and villages and sabotaging water supply networks.
All of which fuel food insecurity. According to UNICEF, more than 20,000 people living in the border area between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger will reach a level of food insecurity described as “catastrophic” by June.
Hostilities extend beyond the central Sahel, to border regions in northern Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Togo, where isolated communities lack infrastructure and resources and where children's access to essential services and protection is severely limited.
Humanitarian responses are, however, underfunded. In 2022, UNICEF received only a third of the US$391 million requested to fund its activities in the region. For 2023, it is asking for $473.8 million.