Ten million children in West Africa’s central Sahel are now in “extreme danger” and in urgent need of humanitarian assistance amid escalating violence, the United Nations warned on Friday.
The number of children in urgent need of help in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger is twice as high as in 2020, the children’s charity UNICEF said.
Meanwhile, another four million children are at risk in neighboring countries as fighting between armed groups and security forces spread across borders.
“Children are becoming increasingly involved in armed conflict, as victims of escalating military clashes or as targets for non-state armed groups,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF regional director for West and Central Africa.
“The year 2022 was particularly violent for children in the central Sahel. All parties to the conflict must urgently stop the attacks on children as well as on their schools, health centers and homes.”
The region has been caught in a spiral of jihadist violence for years, with Mali grappling with an 11-year-old insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and displaced hundreds of thousands from their homes.
Meanwhile, Burkina Faso, one of the most volatile and poorest countries in the world, experienced two military coups in 2022.
UNICEF said the armed conflict in the region has become increasingly brutal, with some groups operating across much of the territory blockading towns and sabotaging water networks.
– Schools burned down, looted –
According to UN figures, three times as many children were killed in Burkina Faso in the first nine months of 2022 than in the same period of 2021.
Most died from gunshot wounds in attacks on their villages or as a result of improvised explosive devices or explosive remnants of war.
Armed groups opposing state education “systematically burn and loot schools and threaten, kidnap or kill teachers,” UNICEF said.
More than 8,300 schools have been closed in the three countries: more than one in five in Burkina Faso, while almost a third of schools in Niger’s Tillaberi region are no longer operational.
James Jones, UNICEF spokesman for the region, described “the extreme danger to the lives and futures of children in the central Sahel”.
“Things have been accelerating downhill at an alarming rate,” he told reporters in Geneva.
“Slowly and surely it has spread, and children — millions of them — are increasingly at the center of it.”
He said several factors are behind the deteriorating trends, including higher food prices, chronic underfunding of humanitarian and development work, a lack of national commitment to childcare and climate change, with temperatures in the Sahel rising 1.5 times faster than the global average.
UNICEF called on all parties to the conflict to fulfill their “moral and legal obligations” towards children under international law, including ending attacks on youth and schools.
– spread to the south –
UNICEF said the violence is spreading from the central Sahel to the northern regions of Benin, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Togo, remote communities where children have very limited access to shelter and services.
“There is growing insecurity in these coastal countries, coupled with similar activities by non-state armed groups,” Jones said.
In 2022, UNICEF received just a third of the $391 million requested for the central Sahel appeal.
In 2023, she applied for $473.8 million for the humanitarian relief plan in the central Sahel and adjacent coastal countries.
The crisis needs long-term investments to promote “social cohesion, sustainable development and a better future for children,” said Poirier.
Source : news.yahoo.com