STORY: Child alert Central Sahel – UNICEF
SOURCE: UNTV CH
ASPECT RATIO: 16:9
DATELINE: 17 March 2023 GENEVA, SWITZERLAND
10 million children in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger in extreme jeopardy with insecurity trickling into neighboring countries: UNICEF
Ten million children in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger - twice as many as in 2020 - are in extreme jeopardy in central Sahel and caught up in a brutal armed conflict with insecurity spilling over into neighboring countries, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Friday.
“Nearly four million children are also at risk in the neighboring coastal states Benin, Togo, Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana,” said John James, UNICEF West and Central Africa Emergency Communication Specialist, speaking to journalists at the United Nations in Geneva. “That's due to hostilities in these countries between armed groups and national security forces, which is increasingly spilling across borders. Today, UNICEF is launching a new child alert, warning of the extreme jeopardy facing the lives and futures of children in the central Sahel.”
According to UNICEF, the year 2022 was particularly violent for children in the central Sahel.
“The situation has been getting and accelerating a lot worse at an alarming pace,” said Mr. James. “The conflicts may not have clear borders and boundaries, they may not be headline-grabbing battles. But slowly and surely, things have been getting worse for children and millions of them are now caught up in the center of this crisis.”
In Burkina Faso, three times more children were killed during the first nine months of 2022 than in the same period in 2021, according to UN data. Most of the children died from gunshot wounds during attacks on their villages or as a result of improvised explosive devices or explosive remnants of war.
With climate change making water scarce, conflict around water points has driven forced displacement.
“The armed conflict has also become increasingly brutal,” emphasized Mr. James. “We've seen armed groups operating in ways that lead to blockades of towns and villages. And we are also seeing deliberate attacks on water points where families and children go to get their water“.
Non-state armed groups that reject the national education system burn and loot schools, threatening, abducting or killing teachers, said UNICEF.
“When we talk about schools, more than 8,300 schools in those three countries, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, are now closed due to violence and insecurity,” said the UNICEF spokesperson.“That's teachers who fled the schools, that's children who are too scared to go to the schools, that's families who are displaced, that's buildings that have been attacked and caught up in the violence. In Burkina Faso, that's more than a fifth of schools closed due to insecurity, actually, it’s almost a quarter now within the country.”
At least 172 violent incidents, including attacks by armed groups, were reported in the border areas in 2022.
“We're also talking about the risk of spill-over into the coastal countries as well,” said Mr. James. “Last year, we saw 172 violent attacks in the northern parts of those four countries. And, for instance, in Benin, there were nine schools closed due to insecurity, the same in Togo as well.”
The crisis is unfolding in one of the most climate-affected regions on the planet. “Climate change, temperatures are rising 1.5 times faster than the global average in the region,” Mr. James said. “Rainfall is erratic, it can come in in rapid amounts in a short space of time. We saw major floods in countries in the region last year, we know about high food prices, global conflicts and COVID behind that. Chronic underfunding of humanitarian and development work and also the need for a greater national commitment to investing in essential services for children.”
UNICEF has urged all parties involved in violence in the Sahel to fulfil their legal obligation toward children under international humanitarian and human rights law, including ending attacks on children and the services they rely on.
UNICEF has appealed for $ 473.8 million to support the humanitarian response in the central Sahel and neighboring coastal countries.