Africa: Unicef Sounds Alarm Over Children’s Plight in War-Torn Sahel Region

Harare — Africans are facing some of the greatest challenges of our time. Food insecurity, resulting from flooding and drought, along with conflict, the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, and high food and fuel prices, has forced people to flee their homes and the region now has 4.5 million refugees and asylum seekers as well as 12.7 million internally displaced people.

As though that’s not enough, the war between Russia and Ukraine and its economic fallout brought more pain as high food and fuel prices worsened the political instability many countries were facing. In the Sahel, cyclical unrest, state fragility, and recurrent humanitarian crises continue, despite national, regional, and international efforts to address the complex range of interconnected challenges the area faces.

This has put nearly 4 million children at risk in neighboring countries, according to Unicef, as hostilities between armed groups and national security forces spill over borders, leaving ten million children in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger in desperate need of humanitarian assistance – double as many as in 2020.

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

Unicef asked all parties to the conflict to urgently stop attacks both on children, and their schools, health centres, and homes.

According to UN statistics, there were three times as many confirmed child deaths in Burkina Faso during the first nine months of 2022 as there were during the same period in 2021. The majority of the children lost their lives to gunshot wounds sustained during assaults on their communities, IEDs, or other explosive wartime relics.

The violence of the war has gotten worse with some of the military groups that control large portions of Mali, Burkina Faso, and increasingly Niger using strategies like sabotaging water networks and obstructing cities and communities. By June 2023, over 20,000 people in the Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger frontier region will experience “catastrophe”-level food shortages, according to recent estimates.

Armed rebel groups routinely torch and pillage educational institutions and threaten, kidnap, or murder teachers. In the three countries, more than 8,300 schools have closed as a result of being specifically targeted, teachers fleeing, or parents being forced to move or being too terrified to send their children to school. Due to the war, more than one in five schools in Burkina Faso have closed, and 30% of the schools in the Tillaberi area of Niger are no longer operational, according to the Unicef.

The northern border areas of Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Togo are experiencing a spillover of hostilities from the central Sahel, says UNICEF, adding that these are remote communities with limited infrastructure and resources, and children there have very little access to basic services and security.

Meanwhile, in by the end of 2022, nine schools in Benin and Togo’s northern areas had closed or were no longer operational because of instability.

The Sahel region stretches from Senegal in the west through parts of Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Sudan to Eritrea on the Red Sea. Arabic, Islamic and nomadic cultures from the north meet traditional cultures from the south.


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