Donors pledge billions in aid, while children’s charities warn that the youngest victims of the crisis are being neglected.

International donors on October 20th agreed to give €1.4bn ($1.7bn) in aid to the central Sahel, which the UN said was close to “breaking point”, Deutsche Welle reported.

Conditions in the sub-Saharan belt spanning Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger are worsening, with 13.4m people in need of assistance.

Donors agreed “to help stem what would otherwise become one of the world’s biggest humanitarian crises”, the UN said in a statement.

Denmark hosted the virtual summit, in partnership with Germany and the EU, in Copenhagen.

“The central Sahel region is at a breaking point,” UN Secretary General said in a video message. “It is a warning sign for us all requiring urgent attention and resolution.”

Guterres said violence was on the rise and internal displacement had increased 20-fold in less than two years.

The number of families facing hunger has tripled, the UN chief added, while climate and the Covid-19 pandemic threatens livelihoods.

Read more: Sahel – The Impact of Climate Change

“We need to reverse this downward spiral with a renewed push for peace and reconciliation,” Guterres said.

Twenty-two countries pledged money to the fund, along with the EU. The US offered €230m, the EU pledged €105m, while Germany gave €102m.

The UN said the funds would help some 10m people for the remainder of 2020 and through 2021 with nutrition, food, health services, water, sanitation, education, and shelter.

Officials at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said an estimated 7.4m people are struggling with crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity during the current lean season.

Compared to the average of the past five years, acute food insecurity has increased 514% in Burkina Faso, 130% in Mali and 144% in Niger.

Source: Natural Earth Data 2015

The number of people in need of humanitarian assistance between January and August rose from 4.3m to 6.2m, or one in three people in the crisis-hit region.

Save the Children meanwhile warned that the donor conference had failed to acknowledge the unique needs of children in the Sahel, ReliefWeb reported.

“In a region where this complex crisis is having an impact on millions of civilians across Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, this investment from the international community is highly welcomed,” said Eric Hazard, Save the Children’s Pan Africa Policy Director.

“However, in the central Sahel one out of two people are under 15 years old. Creating the space for children to share their experiences of living in this fragile and insecure environment is critical to ensure we can understand – and effectively respond to – their needs. Their voices were not heard in today’s discussion.”

Already before the Covid-19 pandemic, 8m children were out of school due to violence and insecurity. The longer they are out of school, the risk of forced recruitment will only increase, Hazard said.

Read more: Kenya – Keeping Children Learning in a Pandemic

“We must prioritise the education and protection of children,” he concluded.

The UN and partners continue to serve people in need in the region. For example, UNICEF is working to reach children with life-saving therapeutic food, immunisation against deadly diseases, and access to safe water and sanitation. 

Children who were released from armed groups, or who were subjected to sexual violence, are also receiving support to recover and reintegrate into their communities. 

However, UNICEF says operations are “critically underfunded”.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

Burkina Faso: Food Insecurity
Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 57, Issue 5

Niger: Millions Need Aid
Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 57, Issue 2

Mali: A Turbulent Month
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 57, Issue 8

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