Photo: Evelyn Fey Bandaro, World Food Programme

On the consequences of hunger and violence in the Sahel

Aid organisations are sounding the alarm for the Sahel: 40 million people could go hungry there in the coming months. However, due to violence and decreasing funding, it is becoming increasingly difficult to reach them. By Katrin Gänsler

(KNA/iz) – The severe crisis in the Sahel countries continues to worsen and yet receives far too little attention. This is the conclusion of the ranking of the most neglected refugee crises in the world, published annually by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in early June. Burkina Faso, where more than 1.8 million people are refugees in their own country, is now ranked second, Chad fifth and Mali sixth. While around 85,000 articles were published daily in English in the first three months of the Ukraine war, only 27,000 were published on the refugee crisis in Burkina Faso in the whole of 2021.

The main trigger was the conflict in northern Mali more than ten years ago, when parts of the Tuareg population – who had criticised being marginalised decades before – rebelled against the state. Extremist groups were able to spread unhindered. In the following years, the French army’s anti-terrorism mission, the United Nations Stabilisation Mission for Northern Mali (Minusma), a peace agreement and two presidential elections were supposed to bring stability and peace, but the opposite has happened.

There have been two coups since 2020. The self-proclaimed president is now General Assimi Goita. ACLED, a non-governmental organisation in the US that collects data on conflicts worldwide, speaks of “escalating unrest.” Organised political violence has increased from 2020 to 2021. The presence of mercenaries from the Russian Wagner Group is also considered worrying. They are accused of being involved in the serious massacre in Moura in central Mali. Human Rights Watch spoke of more than 300 dead.

The Al-Qaida-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) in particular has long since spread to Burkina Faso. Niger is increasingly affected. According to information from Nigerian media, more than 1,200 people have died in terrorist attacks since 2013, as Defence Minister Alkassoum Indatou said at the end of May.

Niger is still considered a stable country in the region, where Mohamed Bazoum was elected president last year. In Burkina Faso, on the other hand, the military has also been in power since the end of January. The catastrophic security situation favoured the coup. Junta leader and interim president Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba planned to restructure the army and equip it better. At the end of May, however, there was another serious attack in the east of the country with more than 50 dead.

The insecurity could now be further aggravated by a hunger crisis. The aid organisation International Rescue Committee (IRC) speaks of record levels. Between 2015 and 2022, the number of people in need of emergency food aid has increased from 7 to more than 30 million. Estimates suggest that up to 40 million people could go hungry in June. The last time the development was this dramatic was ten years ago. At the same time, there is a lack of funding. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) already announced in May that it would cut food rations for internally displaced persons and refugees. Another problem is that regions are hardly accessible. In Burkina Faso, for example, it is difficult to reach those in need because of the violence.

Due to the war in Ukraine, food prices are rising in the region, which is dependent on wheat imports. At the same time, climate change is being felt particularly strongly. Rainfall is becoming increasingly difficult to forecast, fails to materialise, or heavy rain floods the fields. But even these often remain fallow. Especially outside the cities, the population is hardly protected from raids and attacks. Farmers increasingly no longer dare to cultivate their fields.

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