Ten million children living in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger are in urgent need of humanitarian aid, twice as many as in 2020, in the face of intensifying conflict, Unicef said Friday.
Burkina Faso, the scene of two military coups in 2022, has been caught since 2015 in a spiral of jihadist violence that began in Mali and Niger a few years earlier and has spread beyond their borders.
"Armed conflicts are increasingly affecting children, who are victims of intensified military clashes or targeted by non-state armed groups," observes Unicef's regional director for West and Central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier, in a statement.
According to UNICEF’s Chief of Emergencies for West and Central Africa Nicola Bennett, in humanitarian emergencies, children tend to suffer first, and often they suffer most, especially in the Sahel region.
‘The Sahel’ refers to 10 countries in West and Central Africa — Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, The Gambia, Guinea, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal. It is a region that rarely makes the front page or leads the news cycle. It is one of the toughest places in the world for children to grow up.
Twelve percent of the world's children live in the region, but that 12 percent suffers a disproportionate burden of child deprivation. For example, the region is home to one-third of the world's children who die before they reach age 5, and one-third of the world's children who are out of school. Forty percent of all mothers who die in childbirth are in this region.
"The year 2022 has been particularly violent for children in the central Sahel. All parties to the conflict must urgently stop the attacks against them, but also against their schools, their health centers and their homes," Marie-Pierre Poirier continued.
According to the UN agency, armed groups opposed to the state-run education system are burning and looting schools, as well as threatening, abducting or executing teachers.
More than 8,300 schools have closed in the three countries (Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger), either because they have been targeted or because parents have been displaced or are afraid to send their children there. - Catastrophic" food insecurity -
In Burkina Faso, data collected by the United Nations showed that the number of children killed in the first nine months of 2022 had tripled compared to the same period in 2021.
Most of these children died from gunshot wounds during attacks on their villages, or were victims of improvised explosive devices or munitions.
This crisis is taking place in one of the regions of the world most affected by climate change, with rising temperatures and more erratic rainfall causing flooding.
At the same time, some armed groups are resorting to tactics of blockading towns and villages and sabotaging water supply systems.
All of these factors contribute to food insecurity. According to UNICEF, more than 20,000 people living in the border area between Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger will reach a level of food insecurity described as "catastrophic" by June.
Hostilities extend beyond the central Sahel to border areas in northern Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, and Togo, where isolated communities lack infrastructure and resources, and where children's access to essential services and protection is very limited.
But humanitarian interventions are underfunded. In 2022, UNICEF received only one-third of the $391 million it requested to fund its activities in the region. For 2023, it is requesting $473.8 million.