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’Toxic brew’ of instability, armed violence, extreme poverty, hunger and COVID-19 putting the future of an entire generation of children and young people in the Central Sahel at risk

UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore’s remarks at the Ministerial Roundtable Meeting on the humanitarian situation in the Central Sahel Region

UNICEF/UN0317909/Frank Dejongh
FILE PHOTO: A baby is weighed and measured at a health center in Maradi, Niger.
UNICEF/UN0317909/Frank Dejongh FILE PHOTO: A baby is weighed and measured at a health center in Maradi, Niger.

On behalf of everyone at UNICEF and our cluster partners, we welcome the chance to shine a light on this silent crisis unfolding before our eyes.

”As we speak, 7.2 million children are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance — up from 4.3 million just last year — in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

“These countries are plagued by a toxic brew of instability, armed violence, extreme poverty, hunger and now, COVID-19 — putting the future of an entire generation of children and young people at risk. And dimming the future of a troubled region that holds so much promise and potential for Africa, and the world.

”The situation is a displacement crisis — with over one million children forced to flee their homes.

“It’s also a nutrition crisis — with 2.9 million children at risk of becoming wasted, a 20 per cent rise since the beginning of this year.

”It’s increasingly a water and sanitation crisis, with more than 6.7 million people in need.

“It’s an education crisis, with more than 20 million children now out of school — a more than doubling since the pandemic began.

”It’s a protection crisis, with 2.3 million children needing our support. Adolescent girls, in particular, are increasingly vulnerable to sexual abuse or child marriage or pregnancy. And armed attacks on communities, schools, health centres and homes has made daily life in these communities a nightmare.

“It’s an economic crisis, as social spending decreases, inflation increases, and households struggle to pay for basic needs.  

”And for the humanitarian family, the Central Sahel is a crisis of access. These children urgently need our support, but reaching them is more difficult and dangerous by the day. 

“As part of the joint response, UNICEF, together with cluster partners across the region — mostly in the field, close to the communities we serve — are doing all that we can.

”For example, this year alone, nutrition cluster partners have treated 364,000 severely malnourished children. And with WASH partners, more than 560,000 people received water for drinking, cooking and hygiene.

“The UN as a whole deeply values and appreciates our partners across the humanitarian family. As a team, we’re reaching those children most in need across the Central Sahel.

”But the needs are fast outstripping our ability to respond. We need our generous family of donors to work with us to pull this region back from the brink.

“For this response, all of our agencies are hugely underfunded. As of the end of August, we received just 39 per cent of the $1.4 billion we need for Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

”This gap means that children are going without the nutrition, health, protection, education, social protection, and water and sanitation they need.

“It also means that our work with governments in Central Sahel to build stronger systems for the future is dangerously stalled.

”We need our development partners to work with us to build stronger systems across the region. Including expanding the availability of safe, nutritious and affordable foods and malnutrition treatment. And increased support for psychosocial support to help children cope with the trauma they’ve endured.

“Work with us to expand national social protection systems, like cash transfers, to help families pay for basic needs like food, education and health care.

”Help us scale-up innovative, quality learning for every child — including digital and remote options. With a special emphasis on refugees, migrants, displaced children and girls.

“Work with us and line ministries to increase the coverage of water and sanitation across all three countries — a chronically underfunded need. Not only to address COVID-19, but to support a region prone to acute water scarcity and climate shocks. Last week’s event, “Water Under Fire in Central Sahel,” brought the WASH cluster together with our NGO and government partners to discuss how we can collectively boost the WASH response on the ground.

”Work with us to invest in social services — and those who deliver them: teachers, health workers, social welfare officers and volunteers who are doing so much to support children and their families in this dangerous time.

“And finally, lend your voices to our call to stop attacks and threats against schools, hospitals, water and sanitation infrastructure, and frontline workers.

”The violence must end. Without peace, what hope do these countries have?

“By investing in children’s needs, we are also investing in peace, in social cohesion, and in — hopefully — lasting development in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

”Let us be united behind these needs now, and give the children of this region the better future they deserve. Thank you"


UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

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