Ten million children in the Sahel face ‘extreme danger’

The United Nations warned on Friday that 10 million children in West Africa’s central Sahel region are now in “extreme danger” and in desperate need of humanitarian assistance as violence escalates.

The children’s agency UNICEF reported that the number of children in dire need of assistance in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger is double what it was in 2020.

Meanwhile, four million more children are at risk in neighboring countries as fighting between armed groups and security forces spills over borders.

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“Children are increasingly becoming involved in armed conflict, becoming victims of intensifying military clashes or being targeted by non-state armed groups,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

“2022 has been a particularly brutal year for children in the central Sahel. All parties to the conflict urgently need to stop attacks on both children and their schools, clinics and homes.”

The region has been in a spiral of jihadist violence for years as Mali fights an 11-year-old insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.

Meanwhile, Burkina Faso, one of the most unstable and impoverished countries in the world, saw two military coups in 2022.

UNICEF said the armed conflict engulfing the region is becoming more violent, with some groups operating in large swaths of the territory blockading cities and sabotaging water networks.

– Schools burned down, looted –

Three times as many children were confirmed killed in Burkina Faso in the first nine months of 2022 as compared to the same period in 2021, according to the UN.

Most of them died from gunshot wounds during attacks on their villages or from improvised explosive devices or explosive remnants of war.

According to UNICEF, armed groups opposed to public education “systematically burn and loot schools and threaten, kidnap or kill teachers.”

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More than 8,300 schools have closed in three countries: more than one in five in Burkina Faso, and nearly a third of schools in the Tillabéri region of Niger are no longer open.

James Jones, UNICEF spokesman for the region, detailed “the extreme danger facing the lives and futures of children in the central Sahel”.

“Things are deteriorating at an alarming rate,” he told reporters in Geneva.

“Slowly and surely it is spreading, and children – millions of them – are increasingly at the center of it.”

He said the worsening trends were due to several factors, including higher food prices, chronic underfunding of humanitarian and development work, a lack of national commitment to child services, and climate change, with temperatures in the Sahel rising by 1.5 times faster than the world average. .

UNICEF called on all parties to the conflict to fulfill their “moral and legal obligations” to children in accordance with international law, including an end to attacks on youth and schools.

– Violence spreads south, says UNICEF –

UNICEF said violence is spreading from the central Sahel to northern Benin, the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Togo, which are remote communities where children have very limited access to protection and services.

“There is a growing security threat in these coastal countries due to similar activities by non-state armed groups,” Jones said.

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In 2022, UNICEF received only a third of the $391 million requested for the Sahel Central Appeal.

In 2023, he requested $473.8 million for a humanitarian response plan in the central Sahel and neighboring coastal countries.

The crisis calls for long-term investment to promote “social cohesion, sustainable development and a better future for children,” Poirier said.